Home Greenhouse As Dartmouth touts progress, critics see lack of climate urgency

As Dartmouth touts progress, critics see lack of climate urgency


HANOVER, NH — Dartmouth College is one of New Hampshire’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, but during a festival of innovation and technology last month, the institution of the Ivy League presented its efforts to reduce this footprint.

Students and alumni toured the new $160 million Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, a 53,000 square foot glass-fronted building that, according to the director of the sustainability, Rosalie Kerr, embodies the college’s “sustainability ethic”. Nestled between the college’s business and engineering schools on the west end of campus, the four-story building is designed to use a small fraction of the building’s average energy demand.

“Dartmouth is really good at what I call flint durability,” Kerr said. “We focused on the less glamorous things, like the building envelope. It’s kind of an emphasis on Yankee frugality.

Improving efficiency on the 200+ year old campus is the cornerstone of the climate plan announced by the Dartmouth administration last October. There are at least six LEED-certified buildings on campus; four others, including Irving, are in the process of being certified. The administration also said the college would increase funding for research and education on the climate crisis and make no new investments in fossil fuel extraction, exploration and production funds.

“As an academic institution, the greatest impact we can have in addressing the climate crisis comes through our core mission,” Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon said in a statement at the time.

But some would like to see the Ivy League institution move faster. The college’s central heating plant continues to burn No. 6 fuel oil. This made it the state’s 10th largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2020, when it emitted the equivalent of 39,351 tonnes carbon dioxide metrics, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

Plans to replace this heating system with a wood-fired biomass plant were scrapped in December 2020 after three former students, all accomplished climate researchers, circulated a letter of objection explaining that burning wood at instead of oil would increase, not decrease, global carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2017, the college pledged to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Kyle Spencer, a junior at Dartmouth majoring in environmental studies, says that while the college is sincere in its desire to ‘achieve this goal, at this stage, it does not seem likely.

“There are two common issues,” said Spencer, who recently wrote an editorial for the student newspaper lamenting the lack of progress on fossil fuel emissions. “One is a lack of clarity with the student body and alumni. And second, urgency.

The Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society at Dartmouth College. Credit: Dartmouth College / Courtesy

Fossil fuel money flows despite divestment

The new Irving Institute has a natural ventilation system that relies on the glass facade at the front to act as a “solar chimney”, drawing heated air up and out of the roof exhausts. Radiant heating and cooling regulate room temperature by circulating water through tubes, either in ceiling panels or under the floor.

Almost all work and laboratory spaces are flooded with natural light. Exterior blinds automatically lower when the sun heats the building, while triple-glazed windows open automatically when conditions are right to invite in fresh air.

The glass facade has two layers, helping to insulate the spacious central atrium just inside. The roof supports 90 kilowatts of solar panels.

“It’s nothing super new or different,” said James Pike, senior project manager at Dartmouth. “We just tried to maximize fuel efficiency throughout.”

The building is a step in the right direction for the school’s emissions targets, but its namesake – the chairman of Canadian fossil fuel giant Irving Oil – highlights a fundamental tension behind the school’s recent climate change . As the institution divests of its fossil fuel endowment, it accepts tens of millions of dollars from fossil fuel industry leaders to fund the Irving Institute, as well as the Revers Center for Energy, Sustainability and Innovation in the Tuck School of Business, also housed in the Irving Building.

Irving Oil operates the largest oil refinery in Canada and over 900 service stations across Canada and the northeastern United States. Arthur’s wife, Sandra, and their daughter Sara, the company’s executive vice president, serve on the institute’s advisory board.

The Revers Center is named after Daniel Revers, a Dartmouth alum who is one of the founders of ArcLight Capital Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm that invests heavily in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Meg Sheehan, an environmental lawyer in New Hampshire who has strongly criticized Dartmouth’s biomass plant proposal, said she doesn’t believe either institute can operate without the influence of their fossil fuel funders.

“This is an example of big business taking over the so-called clean energy industry by big business trying to go green,” Sheehan said. “I don’t know how he passes the straight face test, frankly.”

Inside the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society at Dartmouth College. Credit: Dartmouth College / Courtesy

“It’s not something you can turn on”

The college recognizes the apparent incongruity on the FAQ page from the Institute’s website. Among the questions are: “How will the Irving Institute ensure the independence of its research?” The response indicates that the Irving family has affirmed its commitment to academic freedom through a written agreement with the college.

Kerr, the director of sustainability, said she hopes “people who own and run fossil fuel companies think about how to transition to non-fossil fuel companies. By activating these people and letting them know that we are interested in talking about these things, Dartmouth can help with what needs to be a bigger pivot.

She said the college was working on transforming its heating system, but it’s a “massive” project that will likely take 10 years. They are gradually moving from a fossil fuel steam central heating system to a more efficient low temperature hot water heating system. This requires the installation of a new piping system throughout the campus, which in many cases also requires major building renovations. About a third of the campus’ 5 million square feet is so far connected to the hot water system, she said.

They are also researching and testing low-carbon ways to heat water, such as geothermal heat exchange or solar thermal.

“Dartmouth is kind of a microcosm of anywhere – our infrastructure is up to 200 years old, and then there are buildings of varying ages since then,” she said. “The transition to a more modern system is therefore a process; it’s not something you can operate.

Jock Gill is among a group of Dartmouth alumni who have lobbied the college to divest from fossil fuels for years. Now that it is, some members are talking about the next steps: how to get the college to act more aggressively on electrification and decarbonization.

“The college clearly examines the issues – the question is, what is the overall sum of the effort?” Gil said. “Dartmouth is essentially a conservative institution. Those of us who believe there is a climate emergency are not sure that a conservative approach is what is needed. »