Climate action group aims to improve energy efficiency in the Keweenaw

Most of us worry about climate change and the environment. Keweenaw Youth for Climate Action (KYCA) is doing something about it. From policy changes to changing light bulbs, the Michigan Tech-based group is promoting actions–large and small–to make the Keweenaw more energy-efficient and sustainable.

At a public forum hosted by the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship last Sunday, the president and members of KYCA described their projects and invited the community to work with them.

Formed in 2019 in response to global climate protests, the group is engaged in two kinds of activities: encouraging Michigan Tech to divest itself of fossil fuel investments and helping community residents–particularly renters–become more energy efficient.

They’ve also planted apple, plum, pear, peach and cherry trees around Houghton and Hancock, said KYCA President Francine Rosinski.

Divestment from fossil fuels

The effort to get Tech to divest itself of fossil fuel investments began in 2020 with a petition. KYCA needed 10 percent of the student body–approximately 700 students–to sign the call for divestment. They now have more than 1,000 signatures, said Gabriel Ahrendt, a third-year PhD student studying geophysics.

“Michigan Technological University has positioned itself as a leader in the innovations of the 21st century,” the petition reads. “We believe that one of the most important of these innovations will be the transition to a global zero-emission economy.”

The petition asks that Tech:

Immediately disclose their investment portfolio,

Halt new investments into the fossil fuel industry,

Divest by an agreed-upon date from any current fossil fuel investments, and consider the reinvestment of these funds to be an opportunity to support environmental and social justice.

Make reinvestment choices in partnership with the student body, faculty, staff and community members.

“Michigan Tech says, ‘We create the future,'” Ahrendt pointed out. “It’s time for them to actually put their money where their mouth is.”

Elise Rosky, a physics PhD student, said that the primary pushback point is the university’s concern that donors expect their money to get the maximum returns, which divesting in fossil fuel investments could impact. New investors could be informed that their investment will be fossil-fuel free, KYCA has suggested. The administration wants feedback from investors before it considers divesting, Rosky said.

Tech has already complied with the first request of the petition, saying that approximately three percent of their investments are in fossil fuels.

UP Energy Project

Patrick Morath Jr., a Michigan Tech alumnus with a degree in electrical engineering, talked about the group’s UP energy project. Including energy efficiency guide brochures. “Energy independence often means ‘drill baby, drill,'” he remarked. But there are other ways of thinking about it. “First we need to try to reduce usage,” Morath said. “Then we can look for forms of more sustainable and renewable energy.”

Small changes can have a large impact, Morath said. The UP energy project is focusing on renters, who don’t have the ability to change big things like insulation or heating systems. But they can switch from incandescent to LED light bulbs. They can use door socks to prevent heat from escaping from under doors.

KYCA has bought window plastic and LED bulbs and made door socks for distribution. The group has also developed energy guides. “Resources are available,” said Rosinski. The group is asking Tech to distribute the guides to students, who are usually renters, to help them ask the right questions. The group’s long-term goal is to involve the landlords in improving energy efficiency, including incentives and a community fund to help landlords make energy improvements. Some of the actions landlords could take include installing insulation, since one-third of all heat is lost through walls; installing energy star appliances and double-paned windows, since 25-30 percent of heat is lost through windows; putting weather-stripping on windows and doors, and bleeding radiators.

KYCA would like the community to get involved in their energy efficiency initiative. They have posted a UP energy feedback form online: https://forms.gle/YRAkTPddywbT5MmV8


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