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It was a historic Earth Day at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as campus leaders committed to a healthier environment with the signing of a climate leadership statement and a 2030 goal for carbon neutrality.

Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said the goal is to “move beyond symbolism” and continue the real work necessary to lessen the University’s impact on the planet―and become more efficient, effective and just, in the process.

Leavitt held a small ceremony in his office, signing the climate leadership statement developed by Second Nature that sets the framework for a more sustainable campus, calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and by integrating resilience into curriculum, research and campus operations.

Brad Spanbauer

“I’d like to shorten the time with the planning and get into the doing,” Leavitt told the group of student and faculty sustainability leaders before setting a carbon neutral goal of 2030. “I want to thank everyone for their support.”

Brad Spanbauer, campus sustainability director, said a lot has changed since a previous carbon commitment was made more than 10 years ago.

“Part of that is making sure than our commitments with respect to emissions are inclusive and progressive,” he said “I think we also need to align our goals with our definitions of sustainability and what it means to be climate neutral.”

Spanbauer said the previous commitment was focused solely on emissions, whereas the new document brings a resiliency component that asks for a focus on climate impacts to the environment, public health, climate justice and energy independence.

“This climate commitment, to me, is more holistic and better aligns with our commitment to being an inclusive campus that is serious about climate change,” Spanbauer said.

Austin Hammond and Erin Thompson, both 2021 graduates, were instrumental in a petition for UWO to be carbon neutral by 2030. The petition garnered nearly 600 signatures in early 2020 and was to be presented at a program in March of that year to celebrate the end of using coal for heating on the UWO campus. The program, featuring special guests Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and other dignitaries, was canceled as COVID-19 appeared in Wisconsin.

Happy to be part of Friday’s event, Thompson said it was exciting to finally have a signed climate action plan after all the work of the petition.

“Sometimes it’s a slow process,” she said, adding that the signing was great for UWO.

Hammond, a former vice president in student government, said he is proud of UW Oshkosh for formalizing the commitment.

“It’s a testament that students have a voice,” he said.

Leavitt commended all the work leading to the new climate commitment.

“I want to thank UWO Shared Governance leaders in the Faculty Senate, Senate of Academic Staff, University Staff Senate and Oshkosh Student Association, who, as independent bodies, approved measures urging this administration to sign the carbon neutrality agreement. I also want to thank UWO Sustainability Director Brad Spanbauer and Stephanie Spehar, director of the Sustainability Institute for Regional Transformations, for their leadership and stewardship of this important pledge and the actions it will inspire.”

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