Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
I write today with several updates about our developing plans to confront the many issues of climate change.
Clearly, this rapidly growing crisis demands our collective engagement as an institution and across society. Indeed, because Columbia is one of the world’s great academic centers in climate science, we have more than the usual responsibility to play a leadership role in adapting to and stemming this emerging threat to the planet.
As I wrote in September, we have launched an effort to establish what more Columbia might do to tackle the climate crisis. In December, Alex Halliday shared with me the findings of the Climate Change Task Force that I announced in September and that then met regularly throughout the fall. First and foremost, the report proposes the formation of a school “like no other” and offers preliminary ideas of how such an entity could expand our research efforts, engage with students, and extend our practical engagement with the world. I have asked Alex, with the help of task force members, our students, our faculty, our deans, and our surrounding community, to continue to lead the important work of designing the school over the next several months. As you will see in the report, Alex has already engaged over 1,000 members of our community for input since September. We are eager to hear more.
As we build out more academic capacities, we also need to be as attentive to our own internal practices as to our research and scholarship. For our own carbon footprint, we must be more efficient and less wasteful. To help in this regard, I will soon appoint a Chief Climate Officer (CCO), who will report directly to me and will bear the responsibility of building on our current sustainability goals, which have been thoughtfully managed by our Office of Environmental Stewardship. Put succinctly, our own institution must serve as a laboratory for the climate change school. We need to implement new systems, technologies, and behaviors as we face the unique challenges that come with aging infrastructure in an urban setting.
There is so much to work on in order to build a more environmentally sustainable campus. Just to start with a small, concrete example, Commencement 2020 will be plastic water bottle-free. The University will facilitate the easy use of reusable personal water bottles that can be refilled by graduates, family, and friends at an abundance of campus hydration stations around the Morningside grounds. A more sustainable commencement should signal a new, less wasteful era for all of our campuses.
On the issue of divestment, it is my request that new ideas be shared directly with our Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), the body responsible for the evaluation of proposals and making recommendations to me and to our Trustees. I urge members of our community to take advantage of this efficient and highly effective group. For instance, the work of this committee led to our 2017 announcement to divest from companies deriving more than 35% of their revenue from thermal coal production and that we would participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s climate change program.
Finally, I write to state our commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, with the hope, and expectation, of arriving at that point even earlier. While we can, of course, be proud of what we have done in the past to reduce our footprint—from our clean construction efforts to the introduction of electric shuttle services—we should and will do more.
There is much work for all of us to do. We know the stakes are high for the University and the world. It is my pledge that we, the Columbia community, will meet our responsibility to act.
Lee C. Bollinger