DUSP Climate Action Plan

In November 2019, a group of over 11,000 scientists declared that the planet Earth is facing a climate emergency. The declaration was published in the journal BioScience (Oxford University Press), highlighting that despite a series of previous warnings from the scientific community, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rapidly rise and the scale of the required collective effort continues to expand, if we are to conserve the Earth’s biosphere. Previous warnings cited by the authors of the article include the First World Climate Conference in Geneva 1979, where scientists identified alarming trends for climate change and the imperative need to act; the 2015 Paris Agreement; and the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, which outlined the potentially dire consequences of continuing our current model of consumption, development, and other human activities.

“The 2018 IPCC report pushed many members of our [DUSP] community to have serious and urgent conversations about our contributions to the problem of climate change. For many of our students, it wasn’t good enough to say that MIT’s Office of Sustainability (MITOS) was working on campus sustainability, or that emissions associated with their education would be offset by their future good work,” said Mariana Arcaya, Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Health and Associate Department Head. “DUSP Climate - a student organized and led group - championed the idea that finding ways to make substantial cuts in our carbon emissions could actually support the department’s educational and research goals, rather than threaten our work. We developed a course around that idea, and the students’ work helps prove the point that there is a huge educational value in using ourselves as a test ground for emissions reductions.”

During the fall term of 2019, students in Developing a Climate Action Strategy for DUSP, a project-oriented class, gathered data and evidence to create an actionable plan to implement the ideas outlined in the 2018 DUSP Climate Recommendations and reduce the department’s climate impact. Students in the class leveraged environmental footprint calculations and inventories, theory surrounding effective institutional change, conversations with stakeholders inside and outside of the department, and research on best practices at other universities to produce a Climate Action Plan for DUSP. The authors of the plan include Master of City Planning students: Julia Field, Amber Kim, Zoë McAlear, and Mary Hannah Smith.

“As a group, we are excited for the opportunity to learn more about climate action plans and explore how a similar effort could be implemented within DUSP in order to reduce the department’s carbon emissions and take responsibility for our environmental impact. This past semester we focused on using data to produce a baseline of our [departmental] emissions, talking to various decision-makers in the department about what would be possible, and researching examples that have been implemented successfully in other academic institutions,” said Field, Kim, McAlear, and Smith. “This report does not represent the views of everyone in the department, but we see it as a critical first step towards further conversations to determine how to prioritize action, decide on next steps, and reach consensus on the tradeoffs we are willing to make.

Over the coming Spring 2020 term, the department will engage with the ideas and initiatives proposed in the DUSP Climate Action Plan. With support from Christopher Zegras, Professor of Mobility and Urban Planning and the new Department Head, DUSP intends to build from the class’s plan to formalize and begin implementing a climate mitigation plan by the end of the Spring term.

“We know that those who have contributed the least to global carbon emissions will feel the impacts of climate change the most. Institutions like MIT have a responsibility to leverage their privilege and resources to act on climate change,” said Zegras. “The students’ plan provides the basis for evidence-based actions we can take to lower our climate impact. While DUSP, on its own, represents a small slice of MIT’s total emissions, as a unit of operation we have a clear range of activities we can control. Hopefully, taking such actions will have demonstration value, provide us an ongoing ‘living lab’ opportunity and, ultimately, make the climate crisis integral to what we practice and teach.”

A complete copy of the plan is available here.