Sustainability’s Latest Pulpit

Rachelle Peterson

The organization that launched the sustainability movement in the United States has spun off another higher education sustainability organization, the Alliance for Resilient Campuses (ARC). Thirty founding signatory universities avow their concerns for the “increasing threat” of “current and expected changes in the global climate” and the importance of becoming “adaptive” and “resilient” to the possible effects of climate change. Signatories also vow to perform four actions: assess the local potential vulnerabilities to climate change effects; adapt infrastructure, land management, food and water supplies, and transportation to prepare for any such effects; accelerate education and research to generate strategies for coping with climate change; and collaborate and coordinate with other institutions committed to adapting.

The Alliance is a child organization of Second Nature, the sustainability advocacy organization founded by John Kerry and Teresa Heinz in 1993 as a way to take the ideals they’d discussed at the 1992 UN sustainability summit in Rio de Janeiro and actuate them in American policy and dispositions, using institutions of higher education as the means. In 2006, Second Nature launched its first institutional pledge, the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, with seventeen signatories. That number has since grown to 682 institutions that pledge to eliminate or offset 100% of their greenhouse gas emissions, develop a climate action plan, and submit annual report that detail campus progress.

The Alliance for Resilient Campuses shares a similar fixation on the threat of anthropogenic global warming. But where the Presidents’ Climate Commitment focuses on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and stopping climate change, ARC directs its efforts to dealing with the effects of climate change.  ARC’s statement of purpose assumes the reality of substantial climate change effects (it makes much of Hurricane Sandy, in which “more than 100 souls perished in the U.S.”) and describes the “need for action” as one of alleviating the harms already in existence: 

Across the US, people are experiencing the impacts of climate change, and colleges and universities, and the communities in which they are located, are not yet prepared. Evidence of these impacts – some subtle as yet, and some severe – is increasingly clear. Few institutions have assessed the impacts of climate change on their missions, infrastructure, operations, budgets, workforce, and investments. Even fewer have actually begun to prepare to avoid or reduce these impacts.

To aid in campus adaptation, Second Nature has compiled case studies and resources on possible effects of climate change. Unlike the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which required extensive documentation, reporting, and administrative work, the ARC requires no paperwork besides a signature. One might think the Alliance is an attempt to lure into Second Nature’s network institutions wary of the hefty administrative demands of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Yet the ARC garnered only one new signatory. The other twenty-nine founding signatories overlap with the signatories of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment.  In those regards, the Alliance seems to be preaching to the choir. 

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