University presidents call on the Trump administration to take climate change seriously

Last month, university presidents and chancellors were offered the chance to urge President-elect Trump to take climate change seriously. It was released today.

The letter, hosted by Second Nature begins,

We, the undersigned leaders of higher education institutions throughout the United States, recognize our academic and ethical responsibilities to current and future generations to take aggressive climate action; to reduce our sector’s carbon pollution, to support interdisciplinary climate education, and to continue research that expands our understanding of rapidly changing earth systems. We are committed to developing and deploying innovative climate solutions that provide a prosperous future for all Americans.

We join our colleagues in the business and investment communities in supporting the science-based targets outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. In fact, many of our institutions have voluntarily set even more aggressive carbon reduction…

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(Continue reading at Second Nature.)

This is an admirable move at a time when people are looking for leadership elsewhere. Best, it comes from a place of service to society and the traditional mission of colleges and universities. As the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching might have said, it promotes a number of learning outcomes of great benefit to society. It help us to share and preserve humankind’s common heritage including our own and other cultures as well as practices like science. It enhances our global perspectives to see that humanity is a remarkably powerful force for good and one that comes with extreme costs to our societies, to our economies, and to nature. We are called upon to develop mutual responsibility in light of those costs. To make good decisions, we need to preserve a democracy. That requires free thought, free inquiry, and free speech. In the world of anthropogenic climate change, universities play a critical role through education, research, outreach, and even our operations. This statement on climate change, science, and responsibility is ultimately about leadership. Who stepped up?

There’s a smattering of many different schools of different shapes and sizes on it. Since I’m a Pennsylvanian, I’m interested in our commonwealth and I see Allegheny, Bucknell, Chatham, Dickinson, Lebanon Valley, Millersville, and Swarthmore. University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, Temple, and no chancellor from nor the president of the Penn State system signed. From all over there are some state schools including Arizona State main campus, Oregon State, and branches University of California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. A few big/elite schools too: George Washington, New York University, Arizona State, and the whole University of California system. So from schools built on public service to the hallowed privates and from the little liberal arts school to the mega Research I school, these presidents get it.

Some might wonder why there aren’t more signatories? I’d say lot of people across a lot of institutions are hedging their bets to see what the Trump administration actually tries to do and what that administration will actually be able to accomplish. But given the fishing expeditions they started and stopped at the Department of Energy and the likes of crank elites like Rick Perry (who’s gotten some okays), Scott Pruitt, and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson (an ultra-NIMBY hypocrite) I’m not holding my breath for good outcomes. While renewable energy might be catching on like the benevolent version of a raging fire in a beetle-infested Ponderosa pine stand, Trump’s and his cabinet’s statements indicate extreme hostility to science, facts, reason, and justice as fairness. My bet is that universities will be in adversarial positions with the federal government for at least the next two years. Maybe four or…gulp…eight.

I applaud the university presidents who signed onto this letter. It takes some courage in a climate of fear created by the armies of the night. No doubt others are along in spirit if not in name. They have to be. To act otherwise would be a dereliction of duty to those we serve.

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