The Time is Now for Macalester to Invest in Clean Energy


Decarbonize Mac banner in the Campus Center. Photo courtesy Sunrise Macalester.

Sunrise Macalester, Contributing Writer

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently announced that global temperatures are set to pass 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the 2030s, a timeline sooner and more alarming than many previous predictions. Passing 1.5°C would put tens of millions of people at risk, further destroy earth’s biodiversity, and make it much more difficult to reverse course. Nonetheless, the climate crisis is already here. Today, storms, droughts, water shortages and heat waves are all becoming more frequent and severe. For many, the climate crisis is already a daily reality.

In a few weeks time, the Board of Trustees, Macalester’s main governing body, will vote on whether to adopt the Comprehensive Campus Plan, a set of steps that came out of the Strategic Planning Process, which will shape the college’s infrastructure and built environment. This plan will include decarbonization — through investments in geothermal technology to heat and cool the campus — as a priority for the college. Over the past couple of weeks, we, the student organization Sunrise Macalester, have been engaging with the community by holding teach-ins, tabling, having conversations with members of senior leadership and drafting a letter of support to the Board of Trustees that has collected over 350 signatures from students, faculty, and staff. 

We believe that this Comprehensive Campus Plan, and the approving of individual projects that will follow it, is a crucial opportunity to invest in clean energy and combat climate change. We also believe that, with Macalester’s values, widespread student support, and available federal funding, now is the time to act. 


Alignment with Macalester’s Values


As was identified in the Strategic Plan that passed in 2022, supporting clean energy aligns with Macalester’s sustainability values and commitment to making a positive impact on our world. While Macalester has already done work to make the campus more environmentally friendly through various initiatives such as composting and zero-waste programs, we have fallen short of the goals we’ve set. Macalester committed in 2009 to being carbon neutral by 2025, but will not reach this goal. Because we are not currently carbon neutral, investing in geothermal energy and other clean energy sources is a good way to create a more sustainable campus and the only way to eventually achieve carbon neutrality. 


As an institution, Macalester is responsible for its contributions to the climate crisis, with the over 19,000 metric tons of CO2 emitted by the school each year equivalent to putting over 4,000 cars on the road. While Macalester’s carbon footprint will not decide the climate crisis, we must bring our actions in line with our values by mitigating our contributions to it. This is not just about optics; if Macalester could become a leader in campus sustainability, it could provide a strong proof of concept and encourage other schools to do the same.


Broad Student Support


Sunrise’s letter of support for decarbonizing campus has received over 350 signatures in less than two weeks from students, faculty, staff, and student organizations. Additionally, a campus wide survey showed that clean energy is the second highest priority for Mac students in regards to the Campus Plan. With such wide support, it is clear that the Macalester community prioritizes building a sustainable, equitable, and renewable future. Now is our chance for our campus to reflect those values.

Macalester students at a recent Sunrise teach-in about clean energy investments on campus. Photo courtesy of Sunrise Macalester.

Macalester students at a recent Sunrise teach-in about clean energy investments on campus


Available Federal Funding


The reason why now is a crucial time to invest in clean energy is due to the current federal support provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA is a federal law passed last year that provides unprecedented support to tackle the climate crisis, including funding for higher education institutions. While the details of this funding are yet to be finalized, IRA money could cover 30-50% of the cost of a geothermal project on campus. It is critical that the Board passes the Comprehensive Campus Plan at their upcoming meeting in May to ensure that we do not foreclose on this opportunity. With the ever-uncertain national political landscape, there is no guarantee that Macalester will have access to this kind of funding again.


What’s Next


First, the Board of Trustees must pass the Comprehensive Campus Plan this May. It is expected that the plan will pass and include geothermal technology. However, a passed Comprehensive Campus Plan does not mean that all initiatives within it are automatically approved: the Plan is simply a collection of potential campus infrastructure projects. All of the projects within the Plan need to be individually approved by the Board of Trustees in the future. This means that many of the projects that are currently in it will never come to fruition. After the May vote, Sunrise will work to push these clean energy projects to be approved as soon as possible. 

With this in mind, continued organization and support from the Macalester community is necessary for the administration to follow through with these clean energy investments. Currently, action steps include signing our letter of support for decarbonization and continuing to show support for clean energy. Students who are interested in this project are also invited to come to Sunrise meetings (Sundays at 5pm, CC206) to learn more about how to get involved.


Sunrise Macalester is the Macalester-based hub of the Sunrise Movement, a national, youth-led movement against climate change. We meet in CC206 and on Zoom every Sunday at 5pm. Join us as we fight for a livable, equitable future!