In April, Penn signed a power purchase agreement to purchase solar energy from two new solar energy facilities in Pennsylvania. Purchasing solar-powered energy will be key to meeting the campus’ carbon reduction goals of reaching carbon-neutrality by 2042. The shift to solar power will begin in 2023, and is projected to reduce the University’s entire academic campus carbon emissions by 45% from its 2009 levels, and meet the goal of the Paris Climate Accord seven years early.
“An idea that comes up every 10 years is for Penn to invest money to weatherize buildings in West Philly,” says Braham, who chairs CIRCE. By weatherizing the aging buildings throughout the area, Penn can claim the carbon credits that fewer emissions create. The proposal benefits the hyperlocal community that Penn serves. “If Penn is going to spend money on offsets, why not produce enduring value for its neighbors?” asks Braham. “It will make people’s lives better because it will drive utility costs down. Most of these older houses also have moisture and mold problems. Remediation will make healthier residents, creating a co-benefit of this plan.”
This proposal, however, is an expensive way to offset carbon. Dollar for dollar, an offset purchased outside the local community will have a greater, measurable impact in the amount of carbon in the environment. A going market price for an offset is $25-50 per metric ton. An estimate for this plan would be $150-300 per metric ton.
“It’s hard for people to trust that the accounting is real. So, we are looking at plans that are rooted in the local community not just for the offsets, but because these plans benefit the community,” says Braham.
He cites three tenets of how we should consider buying offsets: local, verifiable, and additional. Local, because money spent locally has added benefits for the economy and health of the community. Verifiable, utilizing a standardized metric. And additional, which Braham breaks down. “If I’m going to invest in solar panels on someone’s house, but they were going to add the panels whether I invested or not, it’s not an additional offset. Our goal is to add something new that will reduce carbon emissions, not just participate in an ongoing system.”
Individuals have been conscious of their carbon footprint for a long time. The Swedish word, flygskam means “flight shame,” and captures the ethos that engaging in an emissions-heavy practice like air travel should weigh heavily on the conscience of the environmentally minded. To that end, one can purchase an offset from JetBlue airlines, for $10 or $50, or use a calculator to factor a one-in, one-out dollar amount. Or, Ryerson argues, individuals and universities and the business sector can look at its air travel habits as a whole, and consider a new system.