Presidential Candidates: Listen to Your Alma Maters on Climate Change

September 09, 2011

As we pass new climate disaster milestones in Texas and the Northeast, the current candidates for President (including President Obama (here and here)) have all distanced themselves from action on climate change.  Four declared candidates – Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum – openly reject the findings of climate science.  The other Republican candidates – Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman – are at least willing to acknowledge global warming and its possible link to greenhouse gases.  But, with the exception of Ron Paul, they have not been explicit about what might be done to reduce carbon emissions.  After highlighting the issue as a Presidential candidate, President Obama has gone almost completely silent on climate change since his inauguration.As evidence of rapid climate change and its damaging impact on the world’s poor continues to mount, the candidates should be reminded that their denial and avoidance are sharply contradicted by their own alma maters.  Without exception, key science faculty members and/or administrators of these diverse colleges and universities have identified carbon emissions as a serious problem.  And 8 of the 9 schools have adopted aggressive plans to reduce their own carbon footprints.The candidates need to be confronted with this blatant contradiction at every turn.  In this blog, I document the case by citing the candidates’ praise for their colleges and universities; their publicly-stated positions on carbon emissions and climate change; public positions taken by relevant science faculty members at their alma maters; and those schools’ published plans for reducing carbon footprints.  I present the Republican candidates in order of their current poll rankings, followed by President Obama.Rick Perry, graduate of Texas A&M University, College Station, TexasPraise for A&M: Gov. Rick Perry Speaks to Texas A&M University Distinguished Alumni, Friday, October 28, 2005. doubt if any of us would say that we are capable of giving back to Texas A&M all that A&M has given to us. I know that to be the case for me. All of the memories we cherish, the friendships that have stood the test of time, the character and values that were shaped here, and that we still carry today, are of a value too great to be repaid. But tonight, let us recommit to living our lives as if we could: striving for excellence in every area of life, giving back to our state and to the school we love, and modeling the Aggie spirit to all we encounter.Position on Climate Change: I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects. I think we're seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.Campaign stop in New Hampshire, Aug. 17, 2011…it’s all one contrived, phony mess that’s falling apart under its own weight.”-- Rick Perry, Fed Up, p. 92Faculty Position: Statement signed by all 23 faculty members of  the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University:We, the faculty of the Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences of Texas A&M, agree with the recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that:1. It is virtually certain that the climate is warming, and that it has warmed by about 0.7 deg. C over the last 100 years.2. It is very likely that humans are responsible for most of the recent warming.3. If we do nothing to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, future warming will likely be at least two degrees Celsius over the next century.4. Such a climate change brings with it a risk of serious adverse impacts on our environment and society.University Program:  From the draft Sustainability Master Plan for Texas A&M University:Texas A&M: Taking the lead in sustainabilityPresident’s statementIt is time to build on our success and take our efforts to the next level through the Sustainability Master Plan for Texas A&M. … The Master Plan addresses 12 strategicimperatives known as the Sustainability 12 :

  • management of climate change,
I hope that you are as proud as I am to take this bold step forward in fulfilling our land-, sea- and space-grant mission of improving the lives of people in Texas and beyond. - Dr. R. Bowen Loftin ’71 PresidentFrom the Program:Greenhouse gas emissions, typically caused from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil, is generally recognized as contributing to climate change. United States EPA has promulgated regulations associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Texas A&M University progress in this area is dependent on many of the other core components and will be interwoven throughout the Plan.Mitt Romney, graduate of Brigham Young University, Provo, UtahPosition on Climate Change: I don't speak for the scientific community, of course. But I believe the world's getting warmer. I can't prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And No. 2, I believe that humans contribute to that ... so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you're seeing. Reuters, June 3, 2011Faculty Position: Statement from Scientists at Brigham Young University to the Utah State Legislature:Open letter to the Utah Public Utilities and Technology Interim CommitteeSigned by 11 of 19 faculty members of the Department of Geological Sciences, as well as members of the Departments of Biology (3), Electrical Engineering (1), Statistics (1) and Geography (1).As Earth scientists in Utah, we are writing to express concern about the manner in which members of the Utah State Legislature have recently dealt with scientific testimony concerning climate change… Substantial scientific evidence supports the following conclusions: first, that climate is changing; second, climate is significantly influenced by human activity; and third, that these changes pose risks to humanity and many other forms of life … We, the undersigned scientists, agree with the consensus view - that climate is changing and is significantly influenced by human activity. We note, in closing, that the undersigned represent a number of political persuasions (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents,) and disagree with one another about how society ought to respond to the threats posed by a warming climate. We have no specific political agenda to support, but agree that whatever action is taken, it should be informed by the best available scientific evidence. We encourage our legislators not to manipulate the scientific evidence to suit any political agenda.Ron Paul, graduate of Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PennsylvaniaPosition on Climate Change:I try to look at global warming the same way I look at all other serious issues: as objectively and open-minded as possible … It is clear that the earth experiences natural cycles in temperature. However, science shows that human activity probably does play a role in stimulating the current fluctuations.   The question is: how much? Rather than taking a “sky is falling” approach, I think there are common-sense steps we can take to cut emissions and preserve our environment. … We should start by ending subsidies for oil companies. And we should never, ever go to war to protect our perceived oil interests. If oil were allowed to rise to its natural price, there would be tremendous market incentives to find alternate sources of energy. - New York Times/Freakonomics Interview, Nov. 20, 2008College Program: From the Gettysburg College Climate Action Plan:Global climate change, caused by increasing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, is one of today’s most pressing issues. Society has already experienced consequences of global climate change, which include food shortages, species habitat loss, drought, increased frequency and intensity of wildfires and storms, unpredictable weather patterns, and rises in sea level (IPCC 2007).  The urgency of global climate change not only necessitates changes in behavior and operations, but also a new perspective. Gettysburg College has taken an active role in doing its part to make our campus aware of the severity of the situation. In the fall of 2007, then President Katherine Haley Will was a charter signatory of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Today, President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77, continues Gettysburg College’s commitment to avert climate change and to educate future generations and make our students, staff, and faculty aware of the impact we have on our environment and the responsibility we have to change.Michele Bachmann, graduate of Winona State University, Winona, MinnesotaPosition on Climate Change:Carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas; it is a harmless gas ... And yet we're being told that we have to reduce this natural substance and reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occurring in the Earth. House floor speech, April 22, 2009University Program:From the statement Welcome 2007, by Dr. Judith Ramaley, President, Winona State University.We will undertake our Climate Commitment this fall … In keeping with our growing connections to our community, we have elected to expand this model to a larger sustainability agenda that we will pursue in close collaboration with the City of Winona and Winona County, both of which have signed comparable climate commitment resolutions. From the Climate Action Plan of Winona State University, prepared by the university’s Office of Sustainability, September, 2009:The environmental and economic consequences of climate change compel Winona State University (WSU), the City and County of Winona, and the Winona Public School District to commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to promote low carbon technologies.  WSU and its community partners recognize the linkages between climate change, energy security, environmental health, and robust economic growth.  Working together, WSU and its community partners commit to build upon current efforts, share experiences, fund new solutions, and educate the public on the need for aggressive action to address climate change and energy diversity.Newt Gingrich, graduate of Emory University, Atlanta, GeorgiaPosition on Climate Change:Let me be clear where I stand:  First, the climate is always changing and has changed throughout the earth’s history. But the fact is that there are now billions of people on the planet and collectively we can have an enormous impact. We have a moral obligation to be prudent stewards of the earth. Paying attention to the climate is a legitimate concern for conservatives, as is concern for biodiversity, for clean air, for adequate water supplies and a host of other concerns.  Second, I do not know if the climate is warming or not. There is some evidence the larger impact of the sun may be about to send us into a long cooling period … I am very skeptical of the popular vote model of climatology the United Nations is currently passing off as science. …That said, I am convinced that humans are increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. I am also convinced that with China and India becoming more prosperous the amount of carbon loading will increase substantially.  As a conservative I believe that conservation and caution are key components of our outlook. So if I can find a strategy which will reduce carbon loading without hurting the American economy I am in favor of it. -- Newt Gingrich Blog Post, 2009University Program: From Emory Sustainability Initiatives – Climate Action:In response to an increasing urgency to address global climate change, Emory is seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy savings. As detailed on our Energy Conservation webpage, Emory's goal is to reduce our energy use by 25 percent per square foot by 2015 from our 2005 levels. We have calculated our 2005-06 and 2006-07 greenhouse gas emissions to establish a baseline and track our progress.Herman Cain, graduate and trustee of Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia; Co-chair for Morehouse’s Campaign for a New Century; Morehouse commencement speaker, summer 2005.Position on Climate Change:I don't believe global warming is real. Do we have climate change? Yes. Is it a crisis, no. And this is why I strongly oppose the cap in trade, and tax and kill bill that Congress passed, even though it didn't get through the Senate yet. And this is why I went to that rally today, about the RGGI, the you know, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. I said that it needed to be called the RGGR, Regional Greenhouse Gas Rip-off. Because that's all it is.-- CBS News Interview, June 9, 2011College Program: Morehouse College is a signatory to The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which commits colleges and to “pursuing the scientifically necessary goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and publicly reporting on their progress.”From Morehouse is Going Green, Morehouse Sustainability Program.On February 21, 2010, President Robert Franklin ’75 signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, aligning Morehouse with more than 600 institutions committed to reducing carbon emissions. Morehouse is to develop and adhere to a comprehensive plan towards climate neutrality.  The momentum is building, our plan is in motion and with the help of the campus community, we look to reduce our carbon emissions 20 percent by 2015, aiming for complete climate neutrality (having a net zero carbon footprint) no later than 2040.  … We want Morehouse to be a leader and model of sustainability among all colleges and universities.Jon Huntsman, graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PAPraise for Penn: From his commencement address to Penn graduates, May, 2010:Graduation is one of life’s great milestones. I guess the others would be your birth, your death—and anytime Penn wins the league championships. Way to go, team!  … This university has flourished over the years, but never more so than under the leadership of my good friend, Amy Gutmann … An amazing thing took place in my studies here after taking time to work and live overseas, whether in the lectures of Professor Alvin Z. Rubinstein or Allyn Rickett, I found my passion.Position on Climate Change:This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community – though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.Time Magazine interview, May 16, 2011University Program: President’s Statement from the University of Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan:Environmental sustainability is defining issue of the 21st century. Higher education can play a leadership role in addressing global climate change. Through its research, teaching, and operational practices, Penn is dedicated to promoting a sustainable culture and implementing environmentally-conscious policies. I signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment in 2007 and pledged that Penn would develop plans to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Our renewable energy purchases and our efficient operations have allowed us to exceed the Kyoto Protocol carbon reduction targets. Our Plan represents a new approach to how we think and behave. I am pleased to share with you this summary of our strategies, and I invite you to visit the Green Campus Partnership website. Please join in our efforts to foster a more sustainable University community that raises environmental awareness and contributes to a healthier planet.-Amy GuttmanPresidentRick Santorum, graduate of Pennsylvania State University, State College, PAPraise for Penn State: Speaking at Penn State in August, 2011:“This place has changed a bit since 1980, and it’s amazing to see the tremendous developments,” he said. “I’m excited to hold the Penn State winning tradition.”Position on Climate Change:I believe the earth gets warmer, and I also believe the earth gets cooler, and I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man through the production of CO2 which is a trace gas in the atmosphere and the manmade part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all of the other factors, El Nino, La Nina, sunspots, you know, moisture in the air.  …  It's just an excuse for more government control of your life, and I've never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative. -- Interview with Rush Limbaugh, June 8, 2011University Program: From the Penn State Emissions Reduction Strategy:To address the issue of climate change, Penn State University has established the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17.5% by 2012 below the 2005/2006 levels . ‘’’In 2008, the EPA’s Green Power Partnership Program recognized Penn State as the number three green power EPA Green Power Partnershippurchaser among U.S. Universities.Penn State is encouraging the importance of individual action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. PSU’s Take Charge Program educates students and faculty about energy use and promotes energy conservation measures that individuals can take.In April 2009 Penn State became the first organization to join the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sustainability Partnership Program, committing the University to increased emissions reductions.Barack Obama, graduate of Columbia University, New York, New YorkPosition on Climate Change:No country can hide from the dangers of carbon pollution.- Address to the UK Parliament, 25 May 2011… each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet … We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories … With old friends and former foes, we will …roll back the specter of a warming planet.- Inaugural speech, January 20, 2009This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations – including my own – will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere.- Berlin Speech, July 4, 2008Faculty Position: Introduction to the Columbia Climate Center:A compelling case for the existence of anthropogenic, or human-induced, climate change has been made and the climate science community now faces the challenge of identifying actions to minimize further negative impacts of climate change.  This challenge requires a multidisciplinary approach that involves climate scientists, engineers, economists, experts in public health, and social and political scientists, to: * Improve our understanding of future climate impacts. * Develop and evaluate strategies for adaptation and mitigation. * Effectively communicate the science and impacts of climate change. * Work with stakeholders to develop best practices for adaptation and mitigation.University Program: Columbia University Environmental Stewardship Projects: Energy & Climate:The University is on track to meeting its goals. The greenhouse gas emissions inventory is being updated with last year's numbers, and will be released later this year.More than a year after Columbia committed to reducing its carbon footprint 30 percent by the year 2017, the University is well on its way toward achieving this important goal. President Lee C. Bollinger today joined with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other university presidents to show their ongoing commitment to PlaNYC, the City's roadmap for achieving sustainability.The University has been working to mobilize faculty, students and staff from across its campuses to join together to help make both Columbia and its home, New York City, more sustainable, and will continue to do so in the years ahead.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.