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Climate Change Beyond Cambridge

Despite recent progress regarding University emissions, more must be done in the field of climate change research

By The Crimson Editorial Board

University President Drew G. Faust announced Tuesday in an email to Harvard affiliates that the University will “seek to become fossil fuel free by 2050 by meeting [its] energy needs with sustainable sources.” The announcement comes in light of recent attention directed toward climate change both on campus and internationally. In her email, Faust wrote, “We have continued to witness the detrimental effects of climate change here in the United States and around the world.” To tackle this challenge, the University created a 10-year sustainability plan in 2008 and ultimately accomplished its emissions goals with the assistance of its task force on climate change.

While Harvard’s increased sustainability may not significantly reduce global emissions, we commend the University for building off its previous success and taking action that will encourage other institutions to do the same. As a prominent institution of higher learning and fixture of the Boston area, Harvard’s ability to set precedent is a powerful tool to fight climate change in and of itself, as evidenced by Boston and Cambridge’s collaboration in the 2050 plan.

We further support the University’s efforts to use its own progress in sustainability as a testing ground for future innovation. In her email, Faust described plans to “strengthen and expand” the Living Lab Research Initiative, whose efforts include bringing together “multi-disciplinary teams of students and faculty on our campus and in neighboring communities to pilot innovative and creative solutions to the climate crisis.” Indeed, this initiative offers a model that showcases the practical applications of the newest research and innovations in sustainability, and, in addition to the rest of Harvard’s on-campus efforts, has the potential to inspire other universities and large-scale institutions to seriously consider courses of action similar to Harvard’s 2050 plan.

Although we commend these recent efforts and look forward to those stemming from Tuesday’s announcement, the University can best address climate change on a global scale by expanding the resources it dedicates to research on climate change and sustainable innovation. We applaud the efforts of the Climate Change Solutions Fund and the Harvard Global Institute, which—through Faust’s efforts—have dedicated more than $11 million to research that offers insights into fighting climate change.

Eleven million dollars clearly represents significant investment on the University’s part, although it feels insufficient in light of, for instance, the $50 million the University has pledged to developing an Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority station in Allston, or the 36 percent decrease, by one estimate, that climate change will have on the country’s GDP per capita by the end of the century. While Harvard should not bear sole responsibility for fighting climate change through research, its position as a leader of and role model for higher education should mandate a greater allocation of resources toward this task. Without increasing investments in climate change research, Harvard risks limiting its positive environmental impact to its own campus, which is completely insignificant when compared to the global problem of climate change.

Given the conclusive evidence supporting the existence of anthropogenic climate change and its pernicious effects, Harvard must take advantage of every efficacious strategy to fight it. We have previously decried ineffective methods of fighting climate change, and we are glad to see the University take on this initiative for its presumably meaningful impact through both direct effects and influence in inspiring other institutions. Nevertheless, if the University aspires to be a true leader in the fight against climate change—as it should—it must devote much more to researching strategies to curb it.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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