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Thirty college and university presidents endorse a carbon price

By Mary Gable

Higher education teaches students to think critically, become productive citizens, and leave prepared for the wider world. In light of the climate crisis, this begs the question: what will its role become if the world young people inherit is unlivable?

college presidents

We know that left unchecked, the consequences of climate change will get worse with time. Today’s youth, then, have the most to lose from continued inaction. If colleges and universities want to remain stewards of learning, they have an obligation to their current and future students to demand action on climate change.

That’s the thinking behind Our Climate’s higher education initiative, part of the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign organized by partnership with Citizens’ Climate Education and Years of Living Dangerously. The campaign began in 2016 and is working to help college students understand the importance of pricing carbon, and ultimately encourage their institutions’ presidents to publicly support a carbon price.

The initiative is driven by student leaders on campuses across the nation. To help rally support for carbon pricing, students create petitions and secure endorsements from clubs, faculty members, and college deans. They meet with vice presidents and provosts to share resources and address concerns. Eventually, they hope to sign their presidents on to a letter supporting a carbon price as a solution for climate change. (Think of it like a micro version of the advocacy and endorsement work that CCL does nationwide.)

The students’ efforts are working. This week, Our Climate announced its Leadership Circle, a group of 30 college and university presidents who have signed the carbon pricing endorsement letter.

These leaders understand the role higher education has to play in calling for action on climate change. “We work to prepare our students for thriving futures, over which climate change casts a dark shadow of uncertainty,” the letter reads. “Putting a price on carbon pollution is an indispensable step we can take to effectively combat climate change.”

This announcement is a major step, but the campaign is just getting started. “Higher education presidents are influential leaders in their communities,” says Clara Fang, leader of CCL’s Higher Education team and one of the organizers of the initiative. “Their support sends a strong message to Congress that carbon pricing has broad acceptance.”

It should also encourage presidents’ academic peers to come aboard. Our Climate hopes that this initial round of endorsements will motivate both college students and presidents to demand support for a carbon price. Their goal is to gather 300 endorsements by the end of 2017.

In the meantime, if you’re a college student or an alumnus, there are plenty of ways to help. The best place to start is to apply to be an Our Climate fellow or field representative. From there, you can access the campaign’s resources and begin building support.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that dealing with climate change is someone else’s responsibility. But climate affects all of us. And when leaders demand climate action, they’re not only helping others — they’re protecting themselves and the things they care about, too. We thank the higher education leaders who understand this reality, and we look forward to seeing many others follow their example.

Mary Gable is a writer and editor who focuses on sustainability and innovation. She's based in Seattle, but takes her work on the road whenever she can.