Higher Education Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative

University presidents are community leaders and highly influential with their members of Congress. Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Our Climate call on leaders in higher education to demonstrate support for carbon pricing. Rather than asking presidents to commit to a specific policy proposal (carbon fee and dividend), which in many cases would be politically impossible for them to do, we ask them to endorse a climate solution that allows for flexibility in the way carbon pricing is implemented. The endorsements are shared with members of Congress and the higher education community. 

Endorsement Letter

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. 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.

Carbon pricing creates an economy-wide incentive to reduce greenhouse gases in economically efficient ways that can, if revenues are used wisely, benefit low-income households while stimulating job growth. The World Bank has endorsed carbon pricing as a way to accurately account for the external costs of emissions, like crop loss, flood damage, and medical treatments that result from heat waves and other climate change disasters. Thousands of businesses support carbon pricing for its transparent and predictable approach.

Dozens of countries and jurisdictions across the world have already enacted carbon pricing mechanisms, and the evidence is in: carbon pricing enables renewable energy to flourish, helps phase out polluting energy sources, and lowers emissions. A strong carbon price will rise quickly enough to work without burdening low-income and middle-class families, and won’t create new dependencies on profits from carbon-based energy.

It is time for the United States to lead on this defining issue of our time, and protect the health and well-being of current and future generations. By making carbon-intensive industries pay a fair share of the costs of their pollution, we will have cleaner air and healthier communities, and prevent the most devastating effects of climate change. We therefore ask our elected officials to proactively work to enact a carbon price on the state and national level.

Signers

Founding Signers: 
Valerie Smith, President, Swarthmore College
Neil Weissman, Interim President, Dickinson College
Michael S. Roth, President, Wesleyan University
Jon Chenette, Interim President, Vassar College
Melvin Oliver, President, Pitzer College

Leadership Circle: 
Leon Botstein, President, Bard College
Robert Goldberg, Interim President, Barnard College
Mariko Silver, President, Bennington College
Dianne Harrison, President, California State University Northridge
Gayle E. Hutchinson, President, California State University Chico
Robert S. Nelsen, President, California State University Sacramento
Greg P. Smith, President, Central Community College Nebraska
David Finegold, President, Chatham University  
Brian W. Casey, President, Colgate University
Katherine Bergeron, President, Connecticut College
Lee Pelton, President, Emerson College
Marco Valera, Fordham University
Daniel R. Porterfield, President, Franklin and Marshall College
Robert Allen, President, Green Mountain College
Kim Benston, President, Haverford College
Lewis E. Thayne, President, Lebanon Valley College
Jo Ann Rooney, President, Loyola University Chicago
Brian Rosenberg, President, Macalester College
Sonya Stephens, Acting President, Mount Holyoke College
John I. Williams, Jr., President, Muhlenberg College
David Oxtoby, President, Pomona College
Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State University  
Thomas J. Schwarz, President, Purchase College, SUNY
Kathleen McCartney, President, Smith College
Melik Peter Khoury, President, Unity College
Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor, University of California Berkeley
Andrew J. Leavitt, President, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Paula A. Johnson, President, Wellesley College

Additional Signers: 
Michael S. Brophy, President, Benedictine University
Bernie L. Patterson, Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Biddy Martin, President, Amherst College
Jonathan D. Green, President, Susquehanna University
Sophia Howlett, President, School for International Training
Paul J. Fitzgerald, President, University of San Francisco
Michael B. Alexander, President, Lasell College
Donald J. Laackman, President, Champlain College
Jonathan Gibralter, President, Wells College
Mary Hinton, President, College of St. Benedict
Barbara Andrews, Provost, Antioch University New England
Patrick A. Mcguire, Interim President, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
David P. Angel, President, Clark University
Clayton Rose, President, Bowdoin College
Stephen V. Sundborg, President, Seattle University
Ronald D. Liebowitz, President, Brandeis University
Linda Schott, President, Southern Oregon University
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President, Oberlin College

Frequently Asked Questions

What is carbon pricing?

Carbon pricing is a strategy for addressing climate change that works by internalizing the cost of carbon pollution. According to the World Resources Institute Carbon Pricing Handbook:

Greenhouse gas emissions impose costs on the global community via climate change. A carbon price shifts the burden of these costs from society as a whole to the entities responsible for the emissions, providing an incentive to decrease carbon emissions. Pricing carbon increases the prices of goods across the economy in proportion to their carbon content, and thus in proportion to their effect on climate change. By raising the relative price of carbon-intensive goods (for example, fossil fuels), a carbon price encourages individuals and businesses to purchase less carbon-intensive alternatives.

Since 1990, 20 countries and over 40 subjurisdictions around the world have implemented carbon pricing in the form of carbon fees, emissions trading systems, or carbon offsets. Here is a two minute video from Citizens’ Climate Lobby on carbon pricing.

Is there support for carbon pricing in Congress?

Carbon pricing has been supported by Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (the Waxman-Markey bill) was the first bill that sought to establish a cap-and-trade system in the United States similar to the European Union Emission Trading Scheme. The bill passed the House of Representatives on June 26, 2009 but was never brought to the floor of the Senate. In July 2018, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) introduced the Market Choice Act, which supported a carbon tax with revenue going to infrastructure. Democratic-led bills have included the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act (S. 2368), introduced by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), as well as the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act, introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and in the House (H.R. 4889) by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).

On November 27, 2018, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), joined by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Delaney (D-MD), Charlie Crist (D-FL), and Francis Rooney (R-FL) introduced a bill that would apply a $15-per-metric-ton carbon fee to the U.S. oil, gas, and coal industries and rebate all of the revenue as a dividend to households. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is meant to spark debate in the 116th Congress starting in January 2019.

At the state level, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), established in 2009, was the first mandatory market based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector. California implemented what was at the time the world’s fourth largest cap-and-trade program in 2013.

Cities and municipal councils in the United States have also endorsed carbon pricing as a solution to climate change. They include Philadelphia, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Portland, Oregon. Click here for a full list of municipal endorsements.

Why should I support a price on carbon?

Higher education can have a powerful effect on climate change:

1)     University presidents are highly influential leaders of their community. Their public support for carbon pricing can trigger awareness among students, faculty, staff, board members and alumni. Their words have the power to make climate change a priority, and educate the community about a solution that is still not well understood by the public. They can also set an example for other college and university presidents, building a movement for carbon pricing in the higher education sector.

2)     Universities serve a sector of the population that will be highly impacted by climate change—young people. Their goal is to prepare students to be responsible members of society. There is no better way to teach civic responsibility than to model it in the school’s own actions. A public endorsement of carbon pricing is a one-of-a-kind teaching opportunity.

3)     Members of Congress value the opinion of higher education leaders. Most of them have attended college and graduate school and value the connection with their alma maters. In many communities, the university is the largest employer in town and a hub of economic and cultural activity. What they do is often of consequence to the districts that members of Congress represent.

4)     Universities also employ scientists, economists, and experts who can be influential voices for climate solutions. Their research and educational activities contribute to solutions for climate change. It should not be the sole responsibility of front line communities suffering the effects of climate change (including young people) to be activists, higher education leaders should take a stand.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said, “If five or six college presidents came to me and said, ‘Senator Alexander, may we have a 30 minute appointment with you while you’re home next month?’, I’ll do it in a minute. So will every other Senator. You (college presidents) have the credibility to go to a member of Congress and say, ‘Will you please vote for this? Will you cosponsor the legislation? Will you support it? Will you encourage the president [of the United States] to sign it?’ Odds are, if you do that they will. It’s about that simple.”[i]

It's time we take Senator Alexander’s advice and make higher education a powerful voice for climate solutions.

Is it appropriate for presidents of higher education institutions to advocate for a cause unrelated to education?

The mission of higher education institutions is education, and climate change is a huge threat to that mission. Disruptions to that mission are already occurring in the form of hurricanes, floods, fires and other climate-fueled disasters that have shut off power, damaged infrastructure, and endangered the lives of students and employees. Higher costs of food, energy and materials in a climate-impacted world will put universities under severe economic and social strain. According to the latest federal report on climate change, the costs of climate change to the United States will be $500 billion a year.[ii] The economic burden on families and young people would impact their ability to attend college, pay tuition, and repay student loans. The fact that the impacts of climate change will be disproportionately borne by young people and successive generations is a form of intergenerational injustice that is directly counter to the mission of higher education.

Education should not only prepare us to become productive members of society, which in its current trajectory is endangering the foundation for it’s existence, but it should also prepare us to be critical thinkers, compassionate human beings, and engaged citizens with the courage to resist if institutions of power do not act in our interests. Climate change is a moral issue that higher education has the responsibility to act on right now.

My institution already has a climate action plan or is a signatory of Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Commitments. Should I sign this letter?  

We applaud institutions that have taken steps to reduce their own emissions, many of which have been leaders in campus sustainability. Institutions that have modeled sustainability are in an excellent position to let their government know that it too needs to take action. A national price on carbon is the most cost-effective action that our government can take right now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors and help us stay within the safe limit of climate change. Without strong policies to reduce emissions at the national level, no amount of campus sustainability will ensure a livable world.

Our institution is committed to non-partisanship and political neutrality on issues. Would signing this letter signal our support for a policy proposal?

The fact that climate change is dangerous and governments need to take action is neither partisan nor political. Carbon pricing is a policy tool but this letter does not endorse any specific legislation. Conservatives find it appealing because it uses market mechanisms to correct an externality. Institutions of higher education would be in good company supporting a solution that many Democrats, Republicans, climate scientists, economists, and policy experts deem the most effective solution to climate change.

I’m at a public institution where there are restrictions on lobbying the government that provides us with funds (except on issues directly related to higher education). Can I still sign this letter?

The letter calls on federal, state, and local elected officials to enact a price on carbon. The audience is intentionally broad so that leaders can show support for carbon pricing without being seen as targeting anyone specific. If you do have an issue with the letter, you are welcome to create your own statement that does not target local or state level lawmakers.

 How will the letter be used?

Upon receipt of the president’s signature, the president’s name and institution will be posted on Our Climate’s website and Citizens’ Climate Higher Education’s website. We will send you a template press release that you can use to publicize your endorsement. We may tweet your support to your members of Congress. At strategic points in our campaign, (for example, when we get to 100 signers), we will conduct outreach via national media outlets. The open letter along with the names of all the signers will be kept on our website and used to gather support from other higher education leaders.

 What are the benefits for my office in signing this letter?

The benefits in signing the letter including demonstrating leadership on the most important issue of our time, and supporting a solution that can move America in the direction of a clean energy economy. Our signers join a prestigious cohort of higher education leaders from private and public institutions, liberal arts colleges and research universities.

I am supportive of the initiative but I don’t want to sign the letter. What can I do?

There are many ways to support carbon pricing even if you do not sign the letter. Here are some alternative actions you can take:

1)     Encourage your peers at other institutions to sign the letter.
2)     Write your own public statement supporting climate solutions.
3)     Write a letter to your members of Congress with your private endorsement.
4)     Meet with your members of Congress.
5)     Promote the work of Our Climate, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and other organizations advocating for a carbon price.
6)     Support research, education, and civic engagement on carbon pricing at your university.
7)     Implement internal carbon pricing at your institution by putting a fee on the schools’ carbon emissions.  

[i] http://www.edcentral.org/the-higher-education-industry/
[ii] https://thinkprogress.org/white-house-admits-trump-climate-policies-will-cost-americans-500-billion-a-year-fa82c1557333/?fbclid=IwAR1WoMj3QdMMxBcpBKk0gpF1NpjN50GLaLie-sfX3MbA-ZybXExftzfm5f4

Resources

Before you ask your college or university president to sign onto the Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative, you’ll probably talk to other groups and individuals and get their support first. This includes the sustainability committee, the student government association, environmental and political clubs, and the environmental studies faculty. Now you can use this paper form or this Google Form to educate them about carbon pricing and collect their support to show your president. You can also use this sample email to send to your president or other target endorsers.

In the Media

President Valerie Smith of Swarthmore College endorses the initiative in the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Inside Higher Ed, with 1.8 million unique monthly visitors. 

Higher Education Today, a blog from American Council on Education. 

Two Huffington Post op-eds from President Oxtoby of Pomona College and Neil Leary of Dickinson College

Featured in AASHE's newsletter 

Several local and campus newspapers, including Wesleyan UniversityConnecticut College, Loyola University Chicago, and Fordham University

Extensive social media coverage, as the news has been shared by Years of Living Dangerously (over 2 million followers) and Twilight actress Nikki Reed, among other organizations.