Campus climate change schema: one example

Yesterday I shared a simple framework for understanding how campuses may approach climate change. That post offered a few hypothetical examples. Today I’d like to add a real world example.

Let’s start with the University of Texas-Austin.  A Bloomberg report describes the institution as making a lot of money by (among other things) owning a big chunk of oil-rich land.

Land operated by the University of Texas System is on track to post its best-ever annual revenue in fiscal 2022 because of soaring oil prices and production on its property in the Permian Basin. Oil reached a high of $120 a barrel earlier this year as a result of a war-induced energy crunch. The revenue is expected to help narrow the gap between the Texas system’s $42.9 billion endowment and Harvard’s $53.2 billion as of June 2021.

There is some helpful mapping:

University of Texas-Austin oil holdings_Bloomberg

This isn’t a passive source of income, either.  UT did its best to ramp up production:

Over the last six years, University Lands brought on teams of engineers, geologists, geophysicists and other experts to make extraction as efficient as possible, leaving very little oil in the ground.

What stance towards global warming does this operation indicate? According to the schema I posted yesterday, there are four positions a campus can take as it grapples with the climate emergency: Conservation, Mitigation, Adaptation, and Migration. I’d slot this fossil fuel exploitation squarely in the Conservation spot, as the monies go into Austin’s endowment, an ultimate financial backstop to preserve the institution.  Draining and selling fossil fuels at scale is certainly neither climate mitigation nor adaptation, and there’s no sign of migration.

We can visualize that position like so:

Yet this is a futurist blog, so we can look ahead to anticipate how things might change.  The Bloomberg piece is right there with us, noting that UT’s land is not only rich in carbon, but also in renewables:

“These lands host extensive wind and solar power generation,” said William R. Murphy, Jr., the chief executive officer of University Lands, a division of UT that manages its land. The university “expects considerable growth in these areas and other emerging energies,” he said.

How might the university’s position change if it flips the switch and shifts from fossil extraction to generating solar and wind?  We could consider this a form of Adaptation, the institution changing some of its functions to adapt to a changing world:

Campus climate crisis compass_UT Austin Adapt

Or perhaps the institution will go further, viewing their new Permian usage not just as adaptation to a crisis, but as an effort to mitigate the emergency. They are no longer helping burn carbon, but helping others use renewable electricity.  The visualization becomes this instead:

Campus climate crisis compass_UT Austin Mitigation

Or possibly the institution isn’t clear on its direction, and offers a strategy mixing adaptation with mitigation, landing somewhere in between:

Campus climate crisis compass_UT Austin in the middle

You get the idea.

This is a very simple use of the schema, based on one single (if massive) part of a large and complex institution. But maybe it can get people started on thinking about the rest.

 

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