FACULTY SENATE CLIMATE ACTION RESOLUTION
Brandi Robinson, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Officially endorsed upon a majority vote of the University Faculty Senate
On March 17, 2020, two days after the return from Spring Break, the University Faculty Senate met for the first time in a completely remote environment. During the final request for “new business,” a motion was made by Senator Brandi Robinson for the Senate to consider a “Faculty Senate Climate Action Resolution,” which was subsequently seconded. Matters of new business, barring a suspension of the rules, are then considered by Senate Council for inclusion into the next plenary meeting as a matter of “unfinished business.” On April 7, 2020, Senate Council convened to discharge the duty of preparing the Senate Agenda for the following plenary meeting wherein the “Faculty Senate Climate Action Resolution” gained a majority vote, in this case, a unanimous vote, in favor of appearing on the April 28, 2020, Senate Agenda.
The authors of this resolution are Senator Brandi Robinson, a faculty member and adviser for the Bachelor of Arts degree in Energy and Sustainability Policy in Penn State’s Department of Geography, and Dr. Peter Buck, the Academic Programs Manager at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute. Both Senator Robinson and Dr. Buck have experience writing sustainability-based resolutions. Additionally, Senator Robinson, our Vice Chair of Educational Equity and Campus Climate, has conducted research on local-scale mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, specifically using the University Park campus as a case study. These authors are also grateful for consultation with and from the Senate Committee on University Planning, a committee that has devoted remarkable effort this academic calendar year toward sustainability efforts associated with the institution’s carbon footprint, among other achievements.
Also, for sake of context: On March 17, 2020, during the final request for “new business,” the Senate also received two additional resolutions after receiving Senator Robinson’s, a draft resolution for an optional, alternative grading system for students and a draft resolution on the use of SRTEs in a time of pandemic. While the “Faculty Senate Climate Action Resolution” was subsequently considered weeks later by Senate Council, the other resolutions were considered almost immediately in a Special Session of the Senate convened immediately after the Plenary Session adjourned. Some Senators have noted that they had virtually no recollection of the “Faculty Senate Climate Action Resolution” being motioned or seconded, and the extraordinary circumstances of the March 17, 2020, Plenary Session may be one reason why that is the case.
WHEREAS, the Paris Agreement[i] agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent catastrophic harm to people and ecological systems on which life depends; and
WHEREAS, the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C Report[ii], the U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment[iii], and the Global Risk Report 2020[iv] of the World Economic Forum all conclude that climate disruption is a present danger to human health and well-being, to civil society especially poor and marginalized communities, to economies from the local to the global, and to life on Earth; and
WHEREAS, both the magnitude and speed needed to achieve reductions necessary to prevent dangerous human-induced warming urgently requires colleges and universities, all levels of government, the private sector, and civil society to rapidly develop strategies to achieve the Paris Agreement’s warming limit goals; and
WHEREAS, any delay in reducing GHG emissions makes the Paris Agreement’s warming limit goals much more difficult, if not impossible to achieve, and more expensive as existing GHG emissions levels are rapidly reducing the shrinking carbon budgets that must constrain total global GHG emissions to achieve said goals; and
WHEREAS, a growing number of organizations, including our peer Big 10 institutions the Ohio State University[v], University of Illinois[vi], University of Maryland[vii], University of Michigan[viii], and Northwestern University[ix] have committed to GHG reduction targets and made plans to reach net zero or net negative GHGs as quickly as possible but no later than 2050; and
WHEREAS, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27 guarantees that, “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustees of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people;”[x] and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania contributes approximately 1% of global GHG emissions[xi], which, according to the Commonwealth’s Third Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment[xii], is affecting agriculture, energy, human health, infrastructure, recreation, water quality, forests, and other ecosystems in Pennsylvania, and human health and ecological systems around the world.
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania boasts a proud heritage of energy innovation and production and is also forward-looking to continue to innovate in the changing energy landscape.
WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania State University is the land grant university of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with a global mission committed to research, teaching, community engagement, service, and operational excellence; and
WHEREAS, Penn State is committed to empowering resilience to help individuals, our University community, and society to respond effectively to adversity and, even more impactfully, to “bounce forward,” creating new solutions in response to complex challenges of the 21st Century including anthropogenic climate change[xvi]; and
WHEREAS, Penn State has stated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals that are aligned with the Kyoto Protocol[xvii]; and
WHEREAS, Penn State President Eric Barron signed the “We Are Still In” pledge[xviii] committing the University to do its part to meet the goals set forth by the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris (“the Paris Agreement”); and
WHEREAS, Penn State has reduced its GHG emissions 31.4% from 639,824 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2005-06 to 439,230 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018-19[xix]; and
WHEREAS, projected reductions will surpass 40% by mid-year 2020 when Penn State’s solar power purchase agreement goes into operation in Franklin County[xx]; and
WHEREAS, Penn State is a leading teaching and research university in the fields of low-carbon and renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration, transportation, buildings and infrastructure, materials, food and agriculture, climate-related natural and social sciences, business, policy, law, the arts, humanities, and ethics with participation on local, state, national, and international climate-related research, teaching, and solution organizations; and
WHEREAS, Penn State has both a rich history of energy science and related engineering disciplines and a continued spirit of excellence entering a transformative period in our global energy economy.
WHEREAS, Penn State faculty are committed to ensuring a safe and just space for ourselves, our staff, our students and our children, future generations, and all of life on Earth.
NOW, THEREFORE, WE RESOLVE THAT:
- The Faculty Senate shall immediately call on the University’s Senior Leadership to develop a University-wide Climate Action & Adaptation Plan that is grounded in the best available science and in principles of transparency, cooperation, equal participation, and justice, and focused on available solutions and the development of new solutions.
- The Climate Action & Adaptation Plan should be aimed at both interim and long-range targets that aspire to achieve:
- 100% reduction in purchased electricity-generated GHG emissions by 2030;
- 100% or more reduction in net GHG emissions by 2050 based on 2005 levels through direct mitigation activities, carbon sequestration, and offsetting opportunities
- The Climate Action & Adaptation Plan should include planning to adapt to the changes already happening in our local and national climate.
- Significantly increase investment in academic, co-curricular, outreach, and research initiatives focused on climate science, solutions, and management that are grounded in a spirit of transdisciplinarity, collegiality, and active hope.
- Engage peer institutions, government, the private sector, and civil society to raise awareness and identify courses of action to reduce the impacts of and embrace the opportunities created by anthropogenic climate change.
RESOLVED this 28th day of April, 2020.
[ix] Northwestern University Strategic Sustainability Plan 2017–2021 (https://www.northwestern.edu/sustainability/docs/sustainability-plan/NUStrategicSustainabilityPlan-2017-2021-web.pdf)
[x] Widener University – PA Citizen’s Guide to Article I, § 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (https://blogs.law.widener.edu/envirolawcenter/files/2010/03/PA_Citizens_Guide_to_Art_I_Sect_27.pdf)
[xiv] Clean Energy Vision Action Plan – City of Philadelphia (https://www.phila.gov/media/20180911133120/CEV-Action-Plan_Final.pdf)
[xvi] The Pennsylvania State University’s Strategic Plan for 2016-2025 (https://strategicplan.psu.edu/plan/executive-summary/)
[xviii] Penn State News Article: Penn State backs open letter to support Paris climate agreement (https://news.psu.edu/story/470755/2017/06/06/impact/penn-state-backs-open-letter-support-paris-climate-agreement)