By Doug Smeath and Erin Stewart
Friday Marcy 9, 2007
In what’s believed to be a first-of-its-kind partnership, the University of Utah’s College of Humanities and Salt Lake City are teaming up to neutralize their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Through a program announced Thursday, the university and the city will donate to Pax Natura, a nonprofit organization based in Salt Lake City that pays indigenous people in Costa Rica to preserve their rain-forest lands. Pax Natura’s trustees include former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, biologist Jane Goodall and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The idea is to prevent the destruction of rain forests at a level calculated to offset carbon-dioxide emissions that the university and the city produce. Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun and is believed to be a major cause of global warming. Rain forests absorb carbon dioxide, and environmental scientists have figured out just how much carbon dioxide a hectare of various rain-forest tree species and soils use.
The College of Humanities has committed to raising $16,500 for the program to offset about 45,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions. That figure came from an engineering analysis of the amount of fossil fuels used by the university each year.
The city program, initiated through an executive order issued by Mayor Rocky Anderson, will offset carbon emissions from city employees’ air travel. Up front, the city will contribute less than $2,000, the amount required to offset the approximately 1.2 million air miles traveled by city employees in 2006 and the first part of 2007.From now on, city departments planning travel for city business will budget not only the cost of an airline ticket but also an added cost to buy carbon offsets. Anderson’s environmental adviser, Jordan Gates, said the additional expenditure will fluctuate a bit, but on average, the cost to offset a long flight coast to coast is just under $10.
“We feel that this partnership is innovative because we are going to be the first city in the United States that’s voluntarily agreed to offset our flight emissions,” Gates said. “It’s just another way we can walk the walk.”
Robert Newman, dean of the College of Humanities and a member of the Pax Natura board of trustees, said the partnership with Salt Lake and Pax Natura was a natural evolution after the university started an environmental humanities program three years ago.
“We wanted students to not just study things in the classroom, but think about application in the community and the real world,” he said.
Although the university still needs to raise the money for the offset program, Newman said he hopes students are able to see the global impact the program could have.
Along with offsetting carbon consumption, the U. is also sending one of its graduate students to work alongside environmentalists in Costa Rica to ensure that protected lands stay safe and to educate local landowners about the environmental benefits of preserving rain-forest acreage.