Why Sign The Commitment?

Higher Education must rise to the challenge

Reversing global warming is the defining challenge of the 21st century. We face a crisis that threatens society’s very viability. Eliminating this threat successfully will mean transforming our economy, our institutions, our daily lives within a generation, a challenge of massive proportion. Higher Education has a unique role in America. It has been granted tax-free status, the ability to receive public and private funds, and academic freedom, in exchange for educating students and producing the knowledge that will result in a thriving civil society. For these reasons, Higher Education has a moral and social responsibility to rise to this challenge.

Leading society in this effort fits squarely into the educational, research, and public service missions of Higher Education. No other institution in society has the influence, the critical mass and the diversity of skills needed to successfully reverse global warming. Tomorrow’s architects, engineers, attorneys, business leaders, scientists, urban planners, policy analysts, cultural and spiritual leaders, journalists, advocates, activists, and politicians—more than 17 million of them—are currently attending the more than 4,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States. They will need new knowledge and skills that only Higher Education can provide on a broad scale.

Leadership by presidents and chancellors is critical

Like other great societal challenges, such as the Marshall Plan, the Apollo project, and the attempt to eradicate cancer, the effort to re-stabilize the earth’s climate will take great vision, research, and leadership of society by Higher Education. Presidents and chancellors are leading this effort because they can best establish the moral leadership and strategic direction that is needed to address this challenge. Moreover, only they can convene all parts of a college or university to address the education, research and operational changes needed by Higher Education. As the leaders of the primary intellectual sector of society, the presidents and chancellors are also calling on all of society to deal with climate disruption and declaring that Higher Education is ready and able to take on the challenge of finding solutions for the well-being of everyone.

Leadership by Higher Education will accelerate development of new technologies

Society will also need new technologies, economic instruments and a host of innovative strategies for which the research capability of Higher Education is crucial. Higher Education is also a $317 billion economic engine that employs millions of people and spends billions of dollars on fuel, energy, products, services and infrastructure. Colleges and universities are also ideal settings to develop workable new strategies, systems, behaviors and technologies that can be scaled up to the community and state levels.

Collective action opens up new opportunities and helps to avoid “re-inventing the wheel”

The collective voice of the ACUPCC demonstrates leadership by example, and being heard by government, industry, and the public, prompting them to take notice that the academic community sees climate change as a critical issue. A collective initiative benefits from increased visibility and economies of scale. A critical mass of university leaders can meet with leaders in government and industry to develop joint strategies to move society toward climate neutrality and open up new avenues of funding. Already, because of the size and profile of the ACUPCC signatory group, it has been able to formalize a partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative, which will provide access to $5 billion in low-cost financing for energy efficiency projects and to peer knowledge of performance contracting in the higher education context. This is just one early example of many exciting, innovative benefits that are emerging for the schools that join the ACUPCC.

The ACUPCC is a milieu for networking and information-sharing between schools and across sectors, helping schools interested in scaling up significant and transformational change while avoiding ‘reinventing the wheel.’ Signatories benefit from information sharing, best practices, and case studies from other institutions operating within the common framework of the ACUPCC, while retaining full autonomy over their planning and decision-making due to the flexibility of that framework.

Standing on the sidelines poses a great risk to the reputation of Higher Education

Higher Education faces a great risk if it fails to lead the effort to re-stabilize the climate to a point where we have a chance of accommodating nine billion people and meeting their basic needs. What will society say about those of us in Higher Education if we have runaway climate change and we, who have the expertise and the mandate of education and research for a thriving society, didn’t do everything we could to help society recognize the risks and find solutions to the challenge?

The proper role of colleges and universities is to lead the way by committing to climate neutrality, developing smart and farsighted plans to execute that goal, and equipping students for leadership in the challenges and opportunities ahead.
—David W. Orr, Sears Professor, Oberlin College
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