On Climate Change, Higher Education Leaders Call on Trump to Reverse Course

In an open letter, more than 200 leaders from educational institutions urge support for the Paris agreement and other measures to tackle climate change.

UCLA students protest the election of Donald Trump
Students have held protest rallies like this one at UCLA since the election of Donald Trump and now education leaders are calling on him to address climate change as a serious issue. Credit: Getty Images

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More than 200 leaders of U.S. colleges and universities have signed an open letter urging President-elect Donald Trump and Congress to support America’s participation in the Paris climate agreement, as well as domestic climate change research and investments in a low-carbon economy.

“The upcoming transition of federal leadership presents a unique opportunity to address head-on the challenges of climate change by accelerating the new energy economy and creating strong, resilient communities,” the higher education leaders wrote in the letter posted online on Dec. 19. “Your support…is a critical investment in the future of the millions of students we serve.”

College and university presidents and chancellors are the latest group to publicly call on Trump to take climate change seriously. Since the 2016 election, groups representing more than 300 American businesses and more than 800 Earth scientists and experts have sent similar letters.

Trump, who will be sworn into office on Jan. 20, has questioned the scientific consensus that climate change is man-made and an urgent issue already underway. He’s also selected several climate deniers for top cabinet positions in his administration, promised to “cancel” the Paris agreement, roll back environmental protections and has promoted policies to further develop fossil fuels and related infrastructure projects.

The recent letter was written by a small group of the higher education leaders that signed it, in conjunction with Second Nature, a Boston-based nonprofit that works with campuses on sustainability efforts.

About 210 presidents and chancellors had signed on as of Thursday. They represent more than 200 schools across at least 37 states, and range from one of the nation’s largest state school systems, the University of California’s 10 campuses, to Fisk University, a private, historically black university in Tennessee, and College of Menominee Nation, a tribal community college in Wisconsin. Barnard College, a private, women’s liberal arts college in New York City, also signed, as did the University of the Bahamas. Schools have until Jan. 13 to sign. Shortly after that, the letter will be delivered to Trump and Congress.

Besides encouraging politicians to act on the climate, the letter has another purpose: to introduce new lawmakers to schools that view themselves as leaders in the movement toward sustainability, Amy Elvidge, the sustainability coordinator at Emerson College, wrote in an email to InsideClimate News. Elvidge helped draft the letter and Emerson President Lee Pelton is a signatory.

“We are committed to developing and deploying innovative climate solutions that provide a prosperous future for all Americans,” the letter said.

Many of the participating schools, the leaders added, have already voluntarily set “aggressive carbon reduction goals to lead our sector forward and to demonstrate what is possible for others.”