Leading the Way

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30 college presidents back student-driven carbon pricing campaign

College and university presidents from 30 higher education institutions across the country are giving their support to a student-driven effort to endorse carbon pricing for its economy-wide approach to lower emissions and incentivize renewable energy development. The Leadership Circle is composed of Dickinson interim President Neil Weissman as well as presidents of Swarthmore College, Pomona College, Vassar College, Wesleyan University and University of California Berkeley. In a letter released today, the presidents call on state and federal lawmakers to work proactively to enact a carbon price at the state and federal level.

“As leaders of higher education institutions, we call upon our elected representatives to act collectively on behalf of current and future generations by putting a price on carbon,” the letter reads. “We work to prepare our students for thriving futures, over which climate change casts a dark shadow of uncertainty. Putting a price on carbon pollution is an indispensable step we can take to effectively combat climate change.”

“We are inviting college and university presidents to join us in calling for carbon pricing as a responsible and bipartisan response to climate change,” said Dickinson interim President Neil Weissman. “By speaking out, our institutions can help create the political will needed for action that addresses our students’ future well-being. Speaking out also will stimulate educationally meaningful debate on our campuses.”

Senior Cora Swanson ’17, a Baird Sustainability Fellow, expressed pride in Dickinson for being one of the first colleges to formally endorse carbon pricing. “A carbon fee and dividend policy is an example of bipartisan work that is needed in this country. It unites both the economist and the environmentalist. I hope that with Dickinson and other colleges vocalizing their support for this policy, carbon pricing can gain the popular support needed to make a real change in how we understand and demand climate action."

A carbon fee creates an incentive for energy producers and users to transition to clean energy sources that produce zero or low carbon pollution, shift from high to low energy intensive goods and services and invest in energy conservation. Each of these responses creates new opportunities for investment, employment, cost savings and profit. A carbon fee that begins at $50 per metric ton of carbon and rises to $70 per metric ton over 10 years would cause carbon emissions to be reduced 20 percent and generate $2.2 trillion in revenue according to a study by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. If the revenue is rebated back to households in equal payments per person, 70 percent of households would benefit from an increase in their after-tax income. The poorest 10 percent of households would gain 9 percent in after-tax income, while the richest 10 percent would experience a 1 percent reduction.

The Higher Education Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative is led by Our Climate, a youth-led organization dedicated to empowering the next generation of climate leaders. Our Climate co-leads the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign with National Geographic documentary series Years of Living Dangerously, and partners with Citizens’ Climate Education to recruit, train and support student leaders across the country to advocate for carbon pricing.

Inspired by the national Put A Price On It campaign, Swanson, joined by Dickinson seniors Bridget Jones, Natalie McNeill, Olivia Boggiano-Peterson and Helen Schlimm—all Baird Sustainability Fellows—drafted and presented a resolution to the Carlisle Borough Council that calls for the U.S. Congress to address climate change and explore a national carbon fee and dividend as an effective policy solution. The resolution was passed by the Carlisle Borough Council on March 10. According to Neil Leary, director of Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education, the students’ initiative demonstrates an awakening interest in civic engagement among youth and great concern about the risks posed by climate change. Passage of the resolution by unanimous vote of the council shows that members of the Carlisle community, including Republicans and Democrats, want responsible action on climate change.

Weissman is one of the national leaders of the Higher Education Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative. Weissman and presidents Valerie Smith of Swarthmore, Melvin Oliver of Pitzer, Jonathan Chenette of Vassar College and Michael Roth of Wesleyan sent a joint letter to their peers at nearly 100 other colleges and universities, inviting them to sign the carbon price endorsement letter. The initiative aims for 500 presidents to sign the letter by the end of the year to help amplify a national dialogue that leads to effective action on climate change.

Dickinson is a nationally recognized leader for acting on climate change and educating for sustainability. Below are some of the college’s achievements.

  • Signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, pledging to become carbon neutral by the year 2020. This is to be achieved by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) 25 percent from the 2008 level and investing in off-campus projects that offset the balance of emissions.
  • Progress includes reducing GHG emissions 8 percent since 2008 through lighting efficiency upgrades, improved controls for heating and cooling buildings, building retrofits and other conservation measures. This has been achieved despite a 10 percent increase in campus square footage since 2008.
  • Dickinson will break ground this summer for a 2.9 MW solar power system that will supply 25 percent of the college’s annual electricity consumption, cut GHG emissions an estimated 2500 metric tons of carbon dioxide and bring the college close to its 25 percent emission reduction target.
  • A new residence hall, scheduled to open in fall 2018, is designed to meet the LEED Platinum standard for energy and environmental performance. Five buildings have been awarded LEED Gold certification, and two others are in review for certification.
  • Dickinson's College Farm, a 50-acre organic farm that produces food for the campus and Carlisle communities, hosts renewable energy research projects and is striving to be carbon neutral.
  • The liberal-arts curriculum integrates content about climate change and sustainability into courses offered in more than 30 of the 43 majors, minors and certificate programs. In 2016, the college established a requirement for graduation that all students must take at least one sustainability course.
  • Supported by a grant of $487,000 from NASA, Dickinson assisted 178 faculty members from 60 colleges and universities to integrate climate change into courses taught in 20 different academic disciplines through workshops and development of teaching resources.

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Published May 9, 2017