07/21/2015 05:27 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2015
- Timothy E. Wirth Vice Chair of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund
I respect William G. Bowen for his distinguished leadership in education, but take strong exception to his rejection of the growing movement for university divestment from fossil fuel holdings.
Mr. Bowen argues that that university endowments should resist “extramural battles of all kinds.” But the climate issue is not extramural and shouldn’t be political; it is an existential matter.
At its core, the climate issue is about science, much of it gleaned from America’s colleges and universities. Physics reveals the processes of the Earth’s greenhouse effect, which makes life possible; chemistry proves the heat-trapping characteristics of carbon dioxide and other gases; and biology, geography, history and sociology illuminate the impacts of past and projected climate conditions.
The Socratic method and peer-reviewed science has yielded a clear, if imperfect picture of the scale and scope of human-caused climate change. The most significant impacts are well known — altered weather patterns, sea-level rise, and substantial socio-economic disruption in key parts of the world. There is broad consensus in the scientific community that avoidance of catastrophic climate change will require holding global average warming to no more 2 degrees centigrade, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Emissions have already built half that warming into the globe’s climate system.
So what should we expect colleges and universities to do to about it?