Chapter 1: Introduction

Concern over the relationship between humans and the environment has grown in recent years as the issues of resource depletion, energy dependence, and climate change have become acknowledged as some of the biggest challenges facing current and future generations. To address these challenges, changes are needed at the individual and institutional levels, with innovation and cooperation as essential parts of successful efforts to decrease human impacts on the environment. Plymouth State University has joined other institutions of higher learning in recognizing their important leadership role in efforts to address environmental issues. It strives to serve as an example of the ways institutions can work with their constituents to reduce environmental impacts. The university is trying to achieve these goals in many ways, including making a formal commitment to reduce the effects of its operations on climate change. This report analyzes Plymouth State’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and presents a plan for eliminating the university’s contributions to climate change. We invite you to help us achieve our goals.

About Plymouth State University

Plymouth State University has a long tradition of meeting the evolving educational needs of the New Hampshire and New England community. Established in 1871 as Plymouth Normal School, the institution became Plymouth Teacher’s College in 1939, Plymouth State College in 1963, and Plymouth State University in 2003. A founding member of the University System of New Hampshire, Plymouth State now serves New Hampshire and the New England region as a comprehensive institution of higher education. The university confers degrees at the Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral levels, as well as the Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies. Professional outreach activities and graduate courses are offered at several satellite locations around the state, and articulation agreements with other campuses of the University System and the Community College System of New Hampshire offer a variety of program and transfer opportunities. The university also contributes directly to the ongoing academic and cultural life of the region by providing a variety of continuing education programs, concerts, and theater performances, art exhibits, and the athletic events of seventeen varsity sports. PSU’s attractive residential campus of wide greens, tree-lined walkways and traditional brick buildings with an array of towers is located in the White Mountains and Lakes Region of New Hampshire, a pristine rural setting of great natural beauty and multiple outdoor recreational opportunities within the New England region.

The university motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) underscores the values upon which the Plymouth State University mission is built. These values are supported by the faculty, staff, and administration through a commitment to excellent teaching based on scholarship, research, and creative endeavor; active involvement in university activities; and service to the wider community. As part of its commitment to its region and the constituents it serves, PSU emphasizes sustainability. The university creates an environment that supports diversity, equity, and inclusiveness for the entire community and actively prepares students to participate respectfully and responsibly in a pluralistic society. The university is committed to providing the best possible educational programming and therefore strives for continuous program improvement through comprehensive institutional assessment.

The educational philosophy of the university is based on academic excellence, learner-centered teaching, experiential learning, applied research, regional service, and leadership. The Plymouth State University education features a complementary relationship between liberal arts and professional studies, between academic and professional development, between service and individual growth, and between the university campus and the larger community.

As a regional comprehensive university, Plymouth State serves the state of New Hampshire and New England by providing well-educated graduates; by offering ongoing opportunities for graduate education and professional development; and by extending to community’s partnership opportunities for cultural enrichment and economic development. In each of these roles, the university has a special commitment of service to the North Country and Lakes Region of New Hampshire.

Climate Change

Plymouth State University strives to improve its relationship with the environment in many ways, but the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (measured as tons of carbon emitted) is a particularly important measure at the current time. While not universally accepted, the majority of the international scientific community has reached consensus that human activities are causing rapid climate change. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserted that the evidence for humanity’s role in causing global warming was “unequivocal.”1

Humans affect climate change primarily through the emissions of chemicals released into the atmosphere from a wide variety of activities, many of which involve the combustion of fossil fuels. A starting point for a very simplified discussion of the dynamics involved is that the Earth has carbon dioxide (CO2) in its atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other gases are essential in what has been termed “the greenhouse effect”, a metaphor which represents the way these gasses trap solar heat close to the planet by preventing its radiation into open space. This process greatly affects temperature on the Earth and is a part of climate change cycles.

The natural carbon cycle on earth primarily involves CO2 in the atmosphere, interactions with ocean water, photosynthesis in plants, metabolism in other living organisms, and geologic processes. Since industrialization, humans have altered the earth’s natural carbon cycle through increased use of energy, primarily fossil fuels. These energy sources were formed very long ago from plant or animal remains that were buried, compressed, and transformed. In terms of the natural carbon cycle the carbon in these fuels was “fixed” in place, essentially locked out of the natural carbon cycle. Humans intervene by burning the fossil fuels. During combustion in the presence of air (oxygen), carbon dioxide and water molecules are released into the atmosphere. Because of the temperature regulating effects of greenhouse gasses, their increase in the atmosphere has effects on global climate. While there have been many climactic changes in the history of the Earth, those concerned with global warming believe that the human induced change in greenhouse gasses is causing this climate change much more rapidly than natural cycles occur, with devastating consequences for the environment including humans. The charts below are adopted from the New Hampshire Climate Plan and represent some of the most current data used to illustrate the relationships between CO2 in the atmosphere, global temperatures, and their current trends.

CAP graph 2

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There are many possible impacts of climate change across the globe including sea level rise, increased species extinction, changes in ecosystems and agricultural productivity. In New England climate change is expected to impact energy, security, and food systems as part of these global effects, and within the region changes may include increased precipitation, more frequent extreme storm events, winter warming, less snowfall, and earlier ice-out on lakes. In combination these effects may have dire consequences. The severity of the potential impacts of global warming and the continuing goal to improve the university’s relationship with the environment and its own sustainability provide the impetus to reduce the carbon footprint of Plymouth State.

  1. Monastersky, Richard. “International Scientific Panel on Climate Change is 90% Sure that Human Actions Have Warmed the Planet.” Chronicle of Higher Education. February 2, 2007. http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/02/2007020208n.htm (Accessed September 6, 2008). []

One Response to “Chapter 1: Introduction”

  1. Lourdes says:

    I read this section with interest. I wanted to make sure that the climate change explanation, espeailly its relationship to greenhouse gases, was properly explained (from the scientific point of view). I am happy to say that I did not notice any problems with the explanations and general content.