1. Remarks on U-M’s commitment to environmental sustainability at June 15, 2017 Board of Regents Meeting

    June 16, 2017

    [Remarks made upon appointment of Jonathan Overpeck as dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at U-M Board of Regents Meeting]

    Thank you, Interim Provost Courant, for the terrific job you’ve done to recruit these outstanding individuals to lead our schools.

    I want to take a moment to discuss one of them, because his appointment aligns closely with a high priority of mine and shared by many members of our community at the University of Michigan –environmental sustainability.

    The recommendation to appoint Jonathan Overpeck as dean will give our School for Environment and Sustainability a great start when it is officially launched on July 1st.

    We created this school in December, envisioning a new school that will draw on faculty expertise from across the breadth of our university, while further advancing UM’s global leadership in sustainability and environmental research and education.

    Dr. Overpeck is a leading researcher in climate change, as the provost noted. Dr. Overpeck has published more than 200 works in climate and environmental sciences and served as a coordinating lead author for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment in 2007. Another lead author in that report was our faculty member and former SNRE dean Rosina Bierbaum.

    The Nobel committee awarded the 2007 prize to the panel and to Al Gore, “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

    I am proud that the University of Michigan is taking action to address the real-world challenges of climate change and sustainability. We’ve been doing this for many years. Our extensive work is guided by a principle that was set forth by my predecessor, President Mary Sue Coleman, and one that I wholeheartedly endorse: We will make our greatest difference by leveraging the talent and commitment of an academic community of more than 80,000 students, faculty and staff.

    The University of Michigan commitment includes research, education and campus operations, working in tandem and building off one another to magnify the power of our impact. Within the last year alone, we have announced a number of advancements in these areas.

    • We reduced energy consumption in general fund buildings by 10.0 percent in the 2016 fiscal year. 
    • We launched the Planet Blue Renewable Energy Demonstration Project, which is a campus wide competition to design and implement projects that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The Board of Regents in March approved a new natural gas turbine at our Central Power Plant that is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level equivalent to the amount of energy used by 10,000 homes each year.

    Our faculty are tackling this issue head-on as well. The U-M Energy Institute is developing an initiative called Beyond Carbon Neutral. It combines the expertise of 60 faculty members to develop inventive proposals around the different aspects of carbon dioxide reduction.

    This takes an important step beyond emissions reductions, as the research seeks ways to remove this greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Beyond Carbon Neutral’s activities fall into three overlapping areas: the biosphere, technology, and human systems.
    U-M faculty have also provided research that is helping communities around the Great Lakes and across the world to make policy decisions to deal with climate change.

    I believe that addressing the threat of climate change is one of the great generational challenges facing our current and future students. As debate over our nation’s response to climate change continues through the political process, we remain steadfast in our commitment to tackle that threat head on at the University of Michigan through measureable greenhouse gas and sustainability goals and a deep commitment to impactful research and education.