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UK Agrees To Carbon Reduction Plan, Activists Vow Vigilance

Josh James

Environmental activists at the University of Kentucky are applauding a new administration commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus by 25 percent by 2025, but the students have no plans to rest on their laurels.

"Capilouto, take a stand. Join the climate action plan."

That was the mantra chanted just outside UK President Eli Capilouto's office in April 2016, as students rallied to secure a firm commitment that the school would join the University of Louisville, Eastern Kentucky University, Centre College, and others in adopting an official emissions reduction strategy.

Environmental group UK Greenthumb has kept the pressure on school officials to shrink the university’s carbon footprint for close to six years, using all means at their disposal.

"We've done on-campus marches. We've collected signatures. We've written letters to both the student newspaper and the Herald-Leader here in Lexington," says organization representative Nate Cortas.

Cortas say those efforts appear to be paying dividends with the administration announcing the school’s commitment to meeting the first of the group’s proposed benchmarks by employing new technologies and conservation initiatives.

UK President Eli Capilouto has acknowledged the students’ role in encouraging university action to combat climate change. In a December video message the president said, "We, better than most universities, can have a dispassionate, objective, thorough review of these matters and to make recommendations about our own space."

The comments are in tune with previous statement by UK officials, who have urged patience while planners tailor the school's climate plan to the campus' unique demands. 

"We are working with Greenthumb on how we develop a plan that's specific to UK," university spokesman Jay Blanton said last year. "What we don't believe in though is a one-size-fits-all approach, and I would add that the University of Kentucky is not alone in taking that stance."

Cortas says Greenthumb and its partners intends to keep that conversation going.

"This is day one of our next campaign toward carbon neutrality as the long-term objective," he says.

But with political climates shifting in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., environmental demonstrators may no longer feel the wind at their backs. Cortas anticipates a tougher road ahead in the coming years as Republicans, many of whom doubt or reject mainstream climate science, set the policy agenda. Asked if the election of Donald Trump and historic gains for the GOP in Kentucky will require shifts in strategy, Cortas says 'twas ever thus in the Bluegrass.

"It always seems that both parties seem to be vying for who is the bigger friend of coal, as it were," he says. "And so, in that way, I think that we are used to opposition and have found ways to thrive."

Greenthumb's next goal is to cut half of carbon emissions at UK by 2035.

Meanwhile, the school's Office of Sustainability will be tasked with keeping tabs on the school’s progress.

Read UK's full Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Commitment.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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