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To lead on climate, leave the ivy tower

Posted on 21 June 2017 by Guest Author

America’s top universities expend considerable efforts to lead in the rankings, but last week they fell short—missing a critical opportunity to show moral leadership on climate change. If top schools want to lead on climate action, they should join the “We Are Still In” coalition, a collection of states, cities, businesses, and universities promising to support the Paris Climate Agreement.

President Trump’s decision to pull out of the international climate accord was swiftly rejected by local and state officials, as well as members of the business and academic community. Over 1,000 leaders have signed on to the “We Are Still In” pledge—including mayors and governors representing about 120 million people. More than 200 colleges and universities have joined. Leadership from these institutions sends a powerful message to President Trump and the globe: even if the federal government reneges on its international commitments, Americans are stepping up to fill the gap.

Unfortunately, our 11 academic institutions—the “Ivy-Plus” group—were not on that list (Columbia was the lone member of the Ivy-Plus group to sign both coalition statements). Instead, our universities—Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale—signed a separate statement of support. Even though we applaud this affirmation of commitment to climate change, this action misses the collective strength of participation in the “We Are Still In” coalition, and it lacks the leadership we expect from these institutions. Sometimes absence can even be more telling than presence.

We therefore implore our University Presidents and Boards of Trustees to join the broader and more inclusive “We Are Still In” coalition. Our universities cannot effectively address climate change from the ivory tower; they must join the wider cross-sectoral climate change response if they hope to advance meaningful progress. Universities play crucial roles in the coalition as drivers of technological research, policy solutions, and educators of the next generation of leaders. Researchers at our academic institutions are documenting the growing impacts of climate change and the consequences of inaction. They are developing breakthrough innovations and policy solutions for all levels of government.

Our university communities are further raising the call for engagement and action. For example, at Yale nearly 1,000 students, recent graduates and faculty have already signaled their enthusiasm for joining the broader coalition. Harvard and Princeton students have gathered hundreds of signatures from classmates and professors supporting the Paris Climate Agreement. Our university leaders can better build upon researchers’ accomplishments and respond to the growing support from students, faculty, and staff by advancing the “We Are Still In” coalition.

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Agreed, universities should join this coalition and show leadership. But perhaps these universities are worried about a backlash if they openly join this coaltion? Backlash could come from a variety of parties sceptical of climate science, and influential in education.

    Some people probably think the laws of science can be "negotiated". There is a powerful, toxic, anti science, anti intellectual bullying movement in America, and it want's to control what universities do. It is utterly delusional, and will lead to ignorance, and your economic and social destruction. It's a return to the stagnation and values of the fuedal middle ages period. (the so called medieval "warm" period)

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  2. It is very 'telling' that the Leadership of the Universities that have not signed on to "We Are Still In" have not provided a detailed 'explanation' for not signing it.

    As leaders of institutions where new reasons and potential better understanding are constantly presented for investigation, consideration and challenge by other well informed people, they are undeniably aware that a 'Good Reason' will stand up to scrutiny and challenges, while a 'Poor Excuse' will stick out like a sore thumb (especially when that excuse is being rationally considered by a person who is well aware of Good Reasons for signing on to "We Are Still In".

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  3. They want to stand apart from the other universities as they feel they are elite.  OK if they feel superior, but this is not the way or the time to emphasize that sentiment over a broad commitment to Paris.

    Frankly, I'm ashamed of my alma mater.  Not the first time, I admit.

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  4. All these institutions and governement members and others that have signed on will mean nothing unless they find a way to keep funding the $100 billion Climate Fund for disadvantaged countries.

    Words will not help here real funding is needed.

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