Greenthumb marches to president’s office

 By Joshua Qualls

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UK’s Greenthumb Environmental Club marched from the Thomas Hunt Morgan Building to President Eli Capilouto’s office Tuesday, urging UK’s administration to adopt a climate action plan.

When Capilouto left a class he was attending, Greenthumb members gave him a letter that pressed the need for such a plan and asked him if they could schedule a meeting to discuss it. Capilouto told the group that he would be busy and traveling through most of December.

“It seems like (Capilouto is) not concerned about it right now,” said Prenna Jackson, a biology junior and recruitment officer for Greenthumb. “We’re hoping that he’ll take it seriously and see that this isn’t just a problem of the present or a political issue — it’s something that (he) needs to address now.”

Greenthumb, founded in 1993, began planning the demonstration two weeks ago, but it has been trying to get the university to develop a climate action plan for about two years.

PDF Document: UK Greenthumb Environmental Club’s desired measures for a climate action plan

The organization prepared for the march in White Hall Classroom Building on Monday morning. Club members and other students wrote what they were thankful for about UK’s environment on leaf-shaped pieces of paper and strung them together into a garland for Capilouto as a gift.

“We believe quite strongly that the university has an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus and we believe that a climate action plan is the best way to do that,” said Jonathan Elliott, a Greenthumb co-coordinator and an economics and mathematics senior. “We are just trying to bring attention to the potential for renewable energy here at the University of Kentucky and gain … student and faculty support for the university adopting a climate action plan.”

Hundreds of universities throughout the U.S. have adopted climate action plans, including the University of Louisville, Northern Kentucky University and Centre College. Though UK submitted a sustainability self-assessment to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education this year and received a silver rating, it remains one of several public universities in Kentucky that has not committed to a comprehensive climate plan.

“We certainly would not be the first in the state,” Elliott said. “In fact, you could probably say we’re a little behind.”

Climate action plans help universities set milestones to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become “carbon neutral,” requiring an increase in energy efficiency and the development of more renewable and alternative energy sources to reduce the carbon footprint. Plans typically consist of dozens — sometimes hundreds — of pages detailing what universities will do to meet these criteria, and signatories are monitored by an organization called Second Nature.

“It varies school to school,” Elliott said. “A school in Nevada might be able to use a lot more solar energy than … our school here in Kentucky can, so it really varies based on what sort of options are available to the school.”

Club members chanted, “Capilouto, take a stand — sign the climate action plan,” along the route and up the stairs to Capilouto’s second floor office in the Main Building. His secretary accepted the garland and wished the group a happy Thanksgiving.

Greenthumb has met with the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, including additional one-on-one sessions Sustainability Coordinator Shane Tedder and Vice President of Facilities Management Mary Vosevich, but members have not yet sat down with Capilouto.

“If we don’t take care of our natural resources then our natural resources won’t take care of us, so we have to take care of the planet,” said Roberta Young, a custodial supervisor for UK’s Physical Plant. She said having a climate action plan is a “fantastic idea.”

Greenthumb’s goal is to make the campus more sustainable, according to its website. Elliott said there are about 30 to 40 active members this semester.

UK’s fifth annual Sustainability Forum will be held Dec. 1 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Hilary J. Boone Center. It will be sponsored by the UK Appalachian Center and the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment.