How Climate Change Threatens Colleges Across the Country

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How Climate Change Threatens Colleges Across the Country

From coast to coast, many colleges and universities are taking a close look at sustainability on their campuses. They are recycling, cutting emissions and reconsidering their purchases. But fewer institutions are choosing to prepare for the real oncoming effects of climate change, even though climate impacts are at this point irreversible. To better understand these risks, we asked students from around the country to tell us how climate change is impacting their campus, college experience, and communities.

Twenty-one months. After 21 months of our relentless organizing, Princeton University continues to invest in and partner with the fossil fuel industry. Despite over 2,560 Princeton affiliates’ pledging not to donate until divestment happens, the university has done little for the climate beyond create committees that will consider Princeton’s divestment—eventually.

Princeton loves to tout its leadership on climate change. In 2019, the university released a Sustainability Action Plan, which details ambitions for a net-zero campus by the year 2046. While the sentiments are admirable, these targets are by no means leadership on climate change. As world-renowned climate scientists with the Climate Crisis Advisory Group argued this past August, net-zero emissions by mid-century will not be enough. Net-zero by 2046 is too little, too late.

At the same time, Princeton’s campus finds itself facing frequent flash floods, and even a tornado tied to Tropical Storm Ida—all associated with climate change. This in Central New Jersey, hardly the front lines of climate change. Back home, many Princeton students face far more severe impacts of climate change, which can take a real mental toll.

Young people like myself are faced with the reality that it might be too late to clean up the mess we have inherited. Though our lack of life experience is often used by the Princeton administration as a reason to dismiss the merits of our work, the failure of world “leaders” to lead on climate leaves us fighting for our lives. That reality can be paralyzing, but for many, it is the very reason we organize.

While decarbonizing campus may take decades, Princeton has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is, end ties with a destructive industry, and quickly affect real change. We don’t need any more committee to “review” our divestment proposal. We cannot afford to wait another 21 months, or we just might end up underwater.

Hannah Reynolds,

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