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DEMAND 4-Decarbonize

Demand 4:

Action Recap: Here because of our recent protests? The chain-in at the UW Power Plant, the “improv protest theater” at Odegaard, or the die-in at the Board of Regents meeting? No, but want to read about them? Check out Kenneth and Marian’s work in the South Seattle Emerald!
Campaign Demands
UW commit to approve a plan that decarbonizes 95% of campus by 2035
Improve campus accessibility as part of the decarbonization process, which includes creating accessible pathways wherever we already need to replace underground pipes as part of the energy transition
The main thing you should know about the campus plan to decarbonize is that right now it targets full decarbonization by 2050, which is too late. We can cut 95% of emissions by 2035 and we must to avoid the more drastic effects of climate change. To read more about why 2050 is too late go
Our urgent priority is to pressure UW, through community, professor, and student engagement, to move as quickly as possible on these demands. UW is required by law to submit a decarbonization plan, but without our pressure this plan will include the 2050 date, which is unacceptable.
, and as the Regents prepare to vote on our demands in November 2023, it’s important that we grow even stronger in solidarity.
Important Steps
Student bodies (ASUW + GPSS) vote to endorse our demands (DONE! With unanimous support in ASUW, and rare near-unanimous support in GPSS)
Meet with the UW President about our demands (took eight months and over a hundred students protesting outside her office building... but DONE!)
UW Sustainability + Facilities, Energy and Operations work towards our demands internally (mostly DONE! they are designing a plan with our deadlines front of mind)
UW Board of Regents decides to vote on our demands! (DONE! President Cauce promised her utmost efforts to make this vote happen this November — we’re counting on it.)
Major press attention before the Regents vote (mostly DONE! While we want more attention, the Seattle Times, KUOW, Ground Zero Radio, UW Daily, South Seattle Emerald, and more have covered these demands!)
UW Faculty Senate endorsement of our demands, before the Regents vote (in progress — target date 11.1.2023)
UW Board of Regents votes to move towards a 95% by 2035 decarbonization plan (They vote this November! We need your help to pressure them!)
The passing of a Green Revolving Fund by the UW, which will allow gains from energy efficiency to be re-invested in clean energy or energy efficiency. For more information, contact
Energy efficiency reforms inside individual departments.
Construction of medium-scale renewable energy infrastructure on campus, such as rooftop solar designed by UW Solar and demanded by UW Transportation.
Construction of large-scale renewable energy infrastructure on campus, such as canopy solar in the Stadium Parking Lot, and geothermal heat pumps in Lake Washington.
Large-scale energy efficiency improvements, through the replacement of the underground networks of centrally heated pipes.
Ensuring that this process, which will involve large-scale construction, addresses student demands around accessibility.
Working with departments in medicine, research and sciences to begin identifying existing alternatives to reliance on small-scale fossil fuels, such as laboratory gas and medical equipment.
(Ongoing) As energy is replaced, or no longer necessary due to efficiency reforms — turn the gas boilers off!
Not related to our scope 1 demands, which our petition is focused on— ICA also works towards the decarbonization of UW Purchasing, including the removal of single-use plastics as also demanded by on-campus orgs such as the Green Greeks and WashPIRG.


The UW President
The UW Provost
UW Office of Planning and Budgeting
The UW Board of Regents
UW’s Environmental Stewardship Committee
The UW Faculty Senate
UW Sustainability
UW Facilities, Energy, and Operations
WA State Legislature
Schools and Departments of the University of Washington


The UW likes to discuss its efforts to become a sustainable university. Located around some of the most diverse nature in the country, it plays alongside UW’s oceanography and biology programs to argue that sustainability is just “in the nature” of campus, a slogan used by UW administration. But do the University’s energy sources match their rhetoric? Well, UW doesn’t just source its energy from fossil fuels. UW burns them, right here on campus, and even the administration knows that’s a problem.
Since 1988, the UW Methane Plant has run off LNG, or methane, a liquified form of one of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet. Though supporters often tout it as “the transition fuel,” in actuality, methane plants heat up the earth in two ways. 1: When methane is burned, CO2 is created, filling the air with a greenhouse gas that the entire world needs to stop putting out, fast. 2: Sometimes methane itself slips, or “leaks.” Methane, described as “natural gas” by industry salespeople, actually traps heat much better than CO2 does. For the first twenty years of methane being in the atmosphere, it traps heat at 80x the Global Warming effect of CO2.
But what does this mean? Why is it so bad? Well, depending on the study, methane emissions have already created 20-33% of the global warming we’ve experienced so far. Between methane emissions and regular CO2 emissions from UW’s Methane Plant, tens of thousands of tons of CO2e, or CO2 equivalent, are being put out every year: and we know that leads to things like drought, stronger natural disasters, and deadlier heat waves. In fact, there have been some attempts to quantify how much damage is being done by plants like the UW’s: the most reputable calculations estimate that emissions from the UW Methane Plant kill anywhere from 20-25 people a year, in excess heat deaths. That’s enough to be one of Washington’s deadliest natural disasters, yearly. Additionally, the plant contributes to fossil fuel air pollution; a leading cause of asthma attacks and a problem killing nearly 4M individuals a year.
What is being done? Under state law, UW faces a number of demands to start reducing its number of carbon emissions, per year. Since UW’s Methane Plant makes up 93% of our direct emissions, acts like the Climate Commitment Act, which will make UW pay $$$ for the damage it’s emissions do, fees are going to start building up to the millions a year. UW is looking at the process to begin a transition away from the plant: but they haven’t proposed a new system without fossil fuels, and it’s been slow-rolled by administration.
In summary: UW’s Methane Plant is dangerous. It’s dangerous for our communities, it’s dangerous for our students, and it’s dangerous in the context of climate change, the phenomenon responsible for WA’s already painful and deadly heat waves. It’s unjust: the communities hurt the most by the Plant’s emissions are not the decision-makers, but those without power, both in our frontline communities and internationally. And we can do something about it: campuses across the country are making the switch away from fossil fuels and towards safe, renewable energy. So why aren’t we? Demand Decarbonization with ICA, and push for a just, sustainable world: one that keeps us and our environments safe.


🏭The UW Methane Plant: LOGISTICS!!

“Eliminating 95% of GHGs by 2035 should be possible for UW. A lot can happen in 12 years — bigger engineering and policy programs than this have been achieved in this timeframe.” — Dr. Jan Whittington, Co-Chair of the UW Faculty Council on Planning and Stewardship, Founding Director of the Urban Infrastructure Lab, Associate Faculty at the Tech Policy Lab, and Faculty Senate leader.
"The United States plans to decarbonize every part of our country's economy and infrastructure by 2050, in 27 years. Surely then, we can decarbonize one university campus in 12 years. If we were really invested in mitigating the climate crisis, we would do it much sooner.” — Climate scientist Dr. Rose Abramoff.
Are you a professor or otherwise climate expert who wants to get in to the weeds? We’re detail folks too! Feel free to read or Amber’s professor-reviewed papers on decarbonizing the University! They’ll have all the logistical details you need.
Once run on coal-fired boilers, the UW Power Plant now runs on Methane: a fossil fuel which was the in the past decade and is predicted to account for 70% of future increase.
Q: What is it used for and why does it represent so much of our fossil footprint?
A: The Methane boilers of the Power Plant are just the first step in a complex network of underground pipes which provide heating and cooling to most of the University campus’ buildings—including the UW Medical Center, where hundreds of lives rely on its function for their survival. The boilers generate steam which is sent through the underground network and used to transfer heat to buildings during the winter. When the weather turns hot, the steam instead collects the heat before recirculating to the power plant’s cooling tower where it dissipates the heat through an artificial waterfall which recreationalists passing by on the Burke Gilman Trail can admire. Because it serves the two most energy intensive sectors of building maintenance, the Methane Plant represents the largest source of our GHGe. The , despite having the potential to be more efficient when compared to individual heating, currently runs into issues with heat regulation. In general, the heat is either on or off. There is little in between.
Q: Are there potential energy replacements?
A: Yes, yes, and yes. Most of what the Methane Plant produces energy for is “low-intensity heat.” This is the “ambient” heating and cooling that keeps our rooms comfortable, especially in peak summer and peak winter. Luckily, can replace this energy easily and much more efficiently. While a methane burner produces ambient heat at what’s called a “below-1” ratio, meaning that for every unit of energy (gas) poured into the boiler, a smaller unit of energy comes out as heat, heat pumps perform at anywhere from a 2-1 ratio to a 5-1 ratio. This is because they use electricity to draw in heat or cooling from the outside atmosphere/ground, rather than directly using that electricity in a boiler. They’re energy efficient, have millions of dollars in subsidies, and as long as they’re powered off clean electricity, require no carbon.
Q: Energy replacements — continued.
A: Ah, yes. I only mentioned one of the handful of potential energy replacements. Heat pumps are great, but several ICA members wrote their final term papers last year on decarbonizing universities, so we’re aware of the multiple other, clean, solutions. For low-intensity heat, energy efficiency reforms (including a steam-hot water conversion) could lower UW’s emissions by 35% or more, something Geothermal lake heat, from Xacuabš, which is sometimes called Lake Washington, is another great potential source which would also reduce heat loads on marine life that is not built for the changing climate. But, some of what the Methane Plant produces energy for is “high-intensity heat.” Whether it’s for labs, cleaning equipment in hospitals, or more, this is stronger than your average intensity that most heat pumps provide. Not to fear, though, there are a bevy of replacements here too. and can reach the temperature necessary for even hard manufacturing. Electric boilers have been used for decades and, since high-intensity heat is a relatively small part of UW’s emissions, wouldn’t make a huge electricity dent on the grid. Solar Heating for Industrial Processes (SHIP) is used in multiple countries and could reach the heat levels needed for UW. High-intensity heat could have energy efficiency work done — overseas hospitals are as much as 10x as efficient as those in the US — and could be replaced by non-heat alternatives such as ozone or liquid sterilizers.
ICA advises against hydrogen (yes, even “green” hydrogen) due to potential health impacts and its extreme inefficiency. We similarly advise against “renewable” natural gas — there’s almost no sustainable capacity for using anything other than waste to generate this gas, and it has the same dangerous health effects as burning “regular” (fracked) methane gas. There may be some place for both of those energies, but they both should be saved for extreme situations in which there are no other feasible solutions! That’s just not where the UW is.
We know UW can hit these goals. The massive UC system is more ambitious , and the UBC system — only 100 miles away, with similar hospital needs to the UW — will be . That’s our timeline, with 100% reductions rather than 95.
Despite this, we’ve still made some “allowances” for UW. We want our goals to be ambitious, but entirely realizable — so in case things go wrong along the way, we’ve set our goal for 95%, not 100%, by 2035.
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The UW Response.

In 2020, the UW Sustainability Department developed an updated (CAP). The CAP sets a few modest goals such as a 45% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 (relative to 2005 levels). (ICA’s current demands: net zero by 2030, and 95% towards “real zero” by 2035, in line with or several of our peer universities.)
In 2021, the UW hired a new director of Facilities, Energy, and Operations, who had previously overseen a transition of a Methane plant to the burning of wood chips at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Although the burning of wood chips can be highly dangerous, and result in air pollution, other parts of the transition were positive, and could be applied here: like using geothermal energy from the warm ground, or the sewer system (which, counterintuitively, isn’t bad for humans or the environment).
That director has since worked with UW Sustainability to develop a strategy that is… an improvement. It sets up a 75% reduction in energy use by 2035, and an 80% reduction in GHGs by the same point. We hope that at least this is funded and accomplished, but 1) UW can do better, and 2) UW must do better, in light of a climate crisis that is already here.
To us, better means: 1: They can move faster. Energy efficiency reforms are predicted to take several years, when many of them can be completed quickly with proper funding and administrative support. (Remember, every additional year of the Methane Plant at current capacity ≈ 21 additional deaths from climate change).
2: They can get cleaner. An 80% reduction in GHGs would still result in a campus emitting nearly 35,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Sound like a lot? It is; it’s almost half what the entire nation of Kiribati puts out in a year. (So ICA demands full decarbonization by 2040, 95% by 2035, and net zero by 2030.)
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