November 13th, 2018
Dear President Cheng,
One month ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report indicating that societies worldwide need to make unprecedented changes to their energy usage by 2030 in order to avert the worst—meaning irreversible, and likely catastrophic—impacts of global climate change. In light of this report, and of the clear way in which climate change will shape the lives of those young people who are currently our students (and their progeny for generations to come), we, the NAU Faculty Senate, respectfully request you to bring an NAU-centered response to climate change forward to our campus community.
We make this request as educators with a mission to “Educate students to serve, lead, and achieve,” as called for in the university’s strategic plan. We cannot educate students about their future without letting them know that that future will be fraught with climate-change related challenges. Teaching and learning at NAU must be coupled with active engagement that provides students with the sense that they can do something about the challenges they will face. For that reason, we call for the continuation of the student-centered programs characterized by the work done in recent years by Ellen Vaughan at the Office of Sustainability. Her FTE position is being filled by an interim .5 FTE position. We believe NAU should be increasing its sustainability-related funding, not reducing it.
If students lack opportunities to act—even in small ways—on what can seem like overwhelming environmental challenges, the result will be hopelessness that can only exacerbate what is already a mental-health crisis on campus. As educators, we owe it to them to provide opportunities for genuine civic empowerment. That requires the sort of university-wide commitment to sustainability publicly called for at the recent President’s Forum—and it also requires dedicated staff time that can be applied to organizing and coordinating student-oriented programs.
In terms of student enrollment and retention, in the last 5 years the fastest-growing degree in CEFNS has been the BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, with the BS degrees in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and Environmental Sciences also growing at above-average rates for CEFNS. Indeed, students across disciplines are keenly interested in issues of sustainability, and they are increasingly hoping to get degrees, and jobs, in this field. It behooves us to grow the Office of Sustainability to support this student interest and passion. It also makes smart financial sense. The Office of Sustainability plays a critical role in training students to apply their classroom knowledge to real campus and local issues, creating essential knowledge-to-action leadership and job training.
Since the IPCC predictions are so dire, we know our region will grow in population (due to climate refugees from the south) and also in opportunities for economic development. As such, we should be investing in growing this field of study, professional skills, and jobs. NAU has long been recognized for excellence in environmental and sustainability programming; we hope to continue our leadership in these areas. We also know that NAU, along with other large institutions, will face immense physical and social effects of warming. Business as usual is not a reliable model. NAU’s health and viability will be threatened should we ignore these important investments in a sustainable future for all of us.
A moral response to our students’ climate change future also requires the university to act as a role model. Just as we strive to model ethical and appropriate behavior in the classroom, we ask the university to embody responsibility when it comes to climate change. We know Ellen Vaughan and her colleagues made good progress in creating Climate and Sustainability Action Plans. We request that these action plans become university priority. Further, we ask that you publicly announce a target date by which the campus will be carbon-neutral. A positive step in that direction would be undersigning the “We Are Still In” climate leadership pledge, which 345 U.S. universities—including Arizona State University—have signed. https://www.wearestillin.com/
NAU is fortunate to have many accomplished researchers, instructors, policy analysts, and other employees across disciplines eager to provide you and your staff with expertise relative to growing our sustainability and climate change efforts.
To summarize, we ask that NAU:
- Commit to the funding of two dedicated Office of Sustainability positions: one focused on facilities and energy on campus (likely in Facility Services), and one focused on providing students with opportunities to address the climate change challenge (likely in EMSA);
- Commit to the updating, implementation, and completion of NAU Climate and Sustainability Action Plans;
- Communicate clear sustainability goals to all administrative units, coupled with metrics to measure progress; and
- Sign on to the “We Are Still In” pledge, and announce a target date by which the university will be carbon-neutral.
The interest and action of young people in their climate change future will continue to grow rapidly. We owe it to them to take the immediate steps necessary to ensure that they view their university as an ally in facing this challenge, and not as an institution that provided lip service but failed to act within the most critical window by which to do so.
The Faculty Senate of Northern Arizona University