The Time for Leadership on Global Warming
David E. Shi, President, Furman University
Good news has been hard to find of late. The financial crisis, housing
slump, and the deepening recession have created a pall of anxiety
affecting us all. No one knows when recovery will truly begin. In the
meantime, the job losses mount, budgets are being pared to the bone, and
the human suffering deepens.
But that's not all. We also face a profound environmental challenge -- climate change -- which threatens
the global ecosystem, the world economy, and the quality of life for
millions of people. Addressing the effects of global warming may well
represent the defining challenge of modern history.
Yet even the most daunting challenges also provide innovative opportunities. People
are coming together in unusual ways to make a collective difference. In
2007 a handful of college presidents posed an uplifting possibility:
could the higher education community lead the way in the fight against
global warming? Now, just two years later, over 600 college and
university presidents have joined the American College and University
Presidents Climate Commitment. They represent some of the largest
universities (such as USC and Clemson), many community colleges, and
scores of small private universities and colleges such as Furman.
More than thirty percent of all college students are represented by these
600 institutions, and that number grows every week. The Presidents'
Climate Commitment (PCC) is the largest collective effort by college
presidents since World War II.
The PCC aligns well with higher education. After all, most of the basic research related to global
warming and environmental quality occurs on college campuses. Likewise,
colleges are created to last forever. Sustainability is at the core of
our missions. We plan to exist forever. And this makes it imperative
that we act audaciously to ensure that there is a compelling future --
for us all.
Each institution that joins the PCC agrees to become carbon neutral by a specified year. The signatories also pledge to
expand their educational and research efforts related to global warming
and environmental quality. The graduates of our institutions should
leave our campuses with a clearer understanding of the meaning and
implications of environmental sustainability and the civic
responsibilities it implies.
For its part, Furman adopted sustainability as a primary strategic goal in 1997. All campus
construction projects must comply with the Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The university
has also instituted stringent "green" guidelines that regulate all
university purchases. Other initiatives include a comprehensive
recycling program, all-electric vehicles, an organic garden tended by
students, faculty, and staff, and a student-run effort to convert
leftover cooking oil from the dining hall into biodiesel fuel. Our
dining service buys local food. And all students are required to take at
least one course that focuses on the relationship between "Humans and
the Natural Environment."
Furman has recently partnered with Southern Living magazine and Duke Energy to construct The Cliffs
Cottage, a completely "green" showcase home featuring solar energy and
geothermal cooling and heating. It will remain open for public tours
through the summer. It will then become our Center for Sustainability.
Furman is also a charter member of the Presidents Climate Commitment. Last
month, the university joined with the Duke Endowment to host a Climate
Action Planning workshop to help other schools make their campuses
The PCC is thus generating cascading benefits.
Faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, and community members are
participating in the effort. New partnerships are emerging; new ideas
and technologies related to energy conservation are being developed and
shared; and, new sources of funding are emerging as corporations,
foundations, and government agencies offer support. We can indeed make a
difference in the planet's future.
Creative efforts to combat
global warming are not only enhancing the educational experience on
college campuses; they also are helping to revive the economy. A recent
study by the Political and Economic Research Institute (PERI) at the
University of Massachusetts suggests that a "green recovery program"
could generate two million new jobs in just two years. For example,
efforts to increase energy efficiency by retrofitting buildings,
improving the nation's outdated electrical grid, expanding and enhancing
mass transit systems, and developing renewable energy projects --
solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal -- are high priorities for new
We cannot ignore reality any longer. Today's
students and their children will experience the worst effects of climate
disruption if we continue business as usual. Thinking about tomorrow
means taking action today. We, the college and university presidents who
have signed the PCC, have committed ourselves to the task, and we hope
that everyone will join us in this essential effort as quickly as
possible. The future is in our hands to shape.