Students convene to inform Dirks about sustainability issues on campus

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In the last “fireside chat” of the semester, UC Berkeley students met with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to discuss challenges in reducing waste and continuing sustainability projects on campus.

Dirks listened to students’ concerns, which included divesting the university’s funds from fossil fuel companies in an effort to tackle climate change. Students urged that with a new UC president and UC Berkeley chancellor, now is the “prime time” to make changes on campus.

“For me, this has been a real window onto a lot of parts of this extraordinary campus,” Dirks told attendees. “Many of the interests that you’re engaged in and many of the activities that you do help me better represent the needs of the university.”

Students called for Dirks to push for divestment from companies with the largest reserves of carbon. In February, the ASUC Senate passed a bill that mandated divestment of all ASUC holdings from fossil fuel companies. The ASUC also placed a referendum on the spring election ballot that passed with a majority of 73 percent and called for the UC system to divest its endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry.

“Clean investment projects aren’t going to be available if institutions like Cal and the UC don’t demand them,” said Ophir Bruck, Fossil Free Campaign coordinator. “Divestment is one of the most meaningful actions as an institution we can take right now.”

Bruck said UC Berkeley should lead the way in actively investing in solutions to bring about a low-carbon and sustainable economy.

Recent data on campus emissions suggest UC Berkeley may be making significant progress toward a low-carbon environment. Last month, campus officials announced that UC Berkeley met its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels two years ahead of schedule.

ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack, however, noted that while the campus may have made progress in decreasing carbon emissions, UC Berkeley is far from reaching its goal of zero waste by 2020. He said there is insufficient funding to install landfill, mixed paper, compost and bottles bins outside every building. The campus needs administrative support to “make all the pieces fit together,” he said.

Jeff Noven, education director at the Berkeley Student Food Collective, said that there is funding available but that it is unsustainable. For example, the Compost Alliance, a student group that is dedicated to building a campuswide compost system and a critical part of the zero-waste policy, faces the possibility of closing down because it relies on grants but is not receiving sustainable funding from the university, Noven said.

Food is a topic relevant to sustainability and the environment that can spark student interest, said Magnolia Barrett, education director at the Student Environmental Resource Center. Several departments and the Berkeley Food Institute are discussing a proposed minor in food systems and sustainability, which would provide a formal educational structure for the study of issues related to modern food and agriculture, according to Barrett.

The meeting was the fourth in a series of fireside chats hosted by Dirks to allow students to inform him about important issues, such as challenges faced by the undocumented community.

“I am glad that the Chancellor even wanted to open up that discussion space,” Barrett said in an email. “However I am skeptical that anything concrete will come out of it … I would be really inspired and surprised if he makes some concrete steps towards even a few of the issues discussed.”

Somin Park covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_sominpark.