To demonstrate their commitment to fighting global warming, the 2007 graduates of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies will invest in projects that sequester carbon dioxide or develop renewable energy in order to offset the pollution that their families will emit as they travel to commencement on Memorial Day.
The 131-member class will spend $2,620, or $20 per graduate, to offset 330 tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the combined weight of 75 full-grown African elephants. Carbon dioxide, emitted from vehicle tailpipe and smokestacks, is the principal greenhouse gas linked to global warming. Carbon offsets are generated by projects that either sequester greenhouse gases or help directly reduce emissions elsewhere.
"The intent is to find a project somewhere that sequesters carbon dioxide—removes it from the atmosphere through any number of biological or mechanical means—or that develops renewable energy technologies," said Colleen Morgan, a member of the carbon neutral graduation committee who will receive a master's of environmental management degree.
Sequestration projects include preserving a threatened forest or pumping liquefied carbon into abandoned oil reservoirs, while renewable energy projects can include the use of wind and solar power and biogas. The class of 2007 arranged for the carbon dioxide offsets with three organizations—Conservation Fund, Native Energy and CarbonFund.org, which are involved in reforestation, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the United States.
The students used a travel calculator on the Native Energy website (nativeenergy.com/travel/) to determine their families' carbon emissions, some of whom are coming from as far away as China, India and Nepal. The calculator takes into account whether the trip is by plane or vehicle, and the rate of emissions for air travel, for example, depends on the duration of the flight—shorter flights have more emissions per mile, because more energy is used per mile in takeoff and landing than in cruising.
Of the graduating students, Tamara Muruetagoiena (master's degree in environmental science) determined that her family from the Basque Country in Spain will emit 10.562 tons of carbon dioxide; Suzy Oversvee's (master's in environmental science) family from Seattle and Washington, D.C., 6.965 tons; Terry Baker's (master's in forestry) family from Florida, 9 tons; and Cassie Flynn's (master's in environmental management) family from Washington State, nearly 15 tons.
On the day before graduation, Yale Dining Services will cater a cocktail party for F&ES students that will feature locally produced organic wines and cheeses, biodegradable plates and recycled napkins.
"I think this will be a great educational opportunity for our families," said Oversvee. "It will give them a taste of the things we've been learning and thinking about for the last two years, and will show them in a concrete way how to apply these principles to their own lives and situations."
Source: YALE University