Organising in schools to control carbon emissions

Submitted by martin on 5 August, 2019 - 6:47 Author: Martin Thomas
Corinda SHS

Corinda State High School, a secondary school with over 1800 students in a middling-income inner-west suburb of Brisbane, has declared itself the first "carbon-neutral" school in the Australian state of Queensland.

It was certified as "carbon-neutral" by the Queensland government Department of Energy in April 2019.

Corinda was not as much a flagship in Australia's student climate strikes, a few months ago, as Kenmore State High School, on the other side of the Brisbane river. But it has done the work to audit its carbon emissions, including from staff journeys to work.

Disappointing is that the audit (bit.ly/cshs-0) shows that the school's emissions actually went up between 2017 and 2018, from 995 tCO2-e to 1,029.2 tCO2-e.

The carbon-neutral rating was gained by the school buying offsets from an Indian company, Hero Future Energies.

So far as I can make out from the public information supplied by Hero, it builds wind farms. The offset is not actual carbon absorption, such as forests and oceans do. It is the difference between the carbon emissions from the wind farms and those which would have come from generating the same amount of electricity from fossil fuels.

The big components of Corinda SHS's emissions are electricity consumption, 524 tCO2-e, waste sent to landfill, 139, staff commuting, 110, school buses, 87. Printing accounted for 33 tCO2-e. The school, unusually for one as close to the city centre, has a school farm, and cattle on the farm accounted for 32.

The audit did not include emissions from students' commuting. These may not be high, since the school is in a densely-populated catchment, but many schools in Brisbane are making a effort to encourage more students to walk or bike to school, declaring "Active Travel days".

The school has installed LED lights to reduce electricity use in lighting. (Queensland state schools generally have no heating and little air-conditioning, but air-conditioning is increasing). Corinda has not planted more trees in its extensive grounds, but then it would require 170,000 young trees to absorb all its carbon emissions. (Young trees absorb about 6 kg CO2 per year, older trees maybe four times as much).

Corinda is progressively putting more solar panels on its roofs (extensive since, as is usual in Queensland, the school has a lot of low-rise buildings, rather than the fewer relatively high-rise buildings common in Britain).

The Queensland state government has set up a "solar schools" website, bit.ly/sol-sc. It monitors schools' electricity generation from solar panels. That is everywhere small compared to usage: Corinda would need about 6,500 m2 of solar panels to cover its usage.

The website also provides materials for teachers to use with students in discussing emissions-reduction.

There's a lot to learn here on how to do good audits of carbon emissions, on what is effective and what is token for reducing emissions, and how to develop discussion in schools.

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