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We Can’t Wait for Our Institutions to Take Action on Climate Change

We Can’t Wait for Our Institutions to Take Action on Climate Change

Climate Change Pennsylvania Students

Students and alumni of Pennsylvania State University—my school and Pennsylvania’s flagship land-grant institution—recognize that the climate crisis is personal. The Keystone State accounts. Nearly 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and is expected to warm nearly 6 degrees FahrenheitBy 2050, having already suffered infrastructure damage in excess of $100 million dollars.

But Penn State can help lead Pennsylvania’s efforts to tackle climate change. With over 700,000 living alumni, the world’s largest dues-paying alumni association, and a massive $4.6B endowment, the university has the resources and reach to make sure that Pennsylvania is doing everything it can to ensure a livable future for its residents.

Despite the fact that many students want this, Penn State has not taken any substantive steps. Last year, thousands participated in a student government referendum. 91 percent of respondents agreedPenn State should get rid of fossil fuels. Students number in the thousandsPenn State signed a petition asking for carbon neutrality in operations. Students on Penn State’s Student Fee Board Annually committed $250,000to finance projects that improve environmental sustainability on campus.

Penn State’s highest governing body, the 38-person Penn State Board of Trustees—which is overwhelmingly wealthy, white, male, and over 65—is the body that ultimately makes decisions on behalf of the Penn State community. Students called for action. Board members counter that student opinions on the climate crisis are “diverse” and claim that bold action is “not really what students want.”

But it’s not their futures that will be devastated by the climate crisis, and Penn State students and alumni are tired of waiting for out-of-touch, nonrepresentative trustees to wake up to the realities of climate change. The beauty of a democratic system lies in the fact that the people are able to make changes. Every year, Penn State alumni elect three former students to the Board of Trustees. Typically, the election is a nonevent, with status quo candidates who campaign on “transparency,” without tangible plans.

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This year, however, students and alumni teamed up to launch the project. Penn State Forward, an effort by students to place climate action and other priorities directly on the ballot. Even though we didn’t have the time and effort that many of the other candidates put into their campaigns, we managed to collect hundreds of signatures in order to place three young, forward thinking candidates on the ballot: Dr. Christa Hassenkopf, Dr. Ed Smith, or Dr. Farnaz Farhi. They are all highly qualified professionals with extensive experience in climate science, higher learning, diversity and equity. They are able to see not only the reality of the climate crisis, but also how it will affect Penn State and the broader community and what Penn State can do to address it. They’re ready to champion fossil fuel divestment, carbon neutrality, climate change education and research, and partnerships across the commonwealth to invest in clean energy and jobs.

Penn State’s Board of Trustee elections may seem inconsequential, which explains why each year, only around 3 percent of all eligible alumni bother to vote. Out of that 3 percent, most voters graduated in the 1970s or ’80s. Young people haven’t had a reason to get involved in these elections, because no one ever bothered to listen to them. But we’ve seen what can happen when movements are able to mobilize younger and more diverse electorates around causes and candidates that speak to them, and we’re bringing that same energy to Penn State and the climate crisis.

The Penn State community has an opportunity to elect a new direction this year. This is your chance to vote to elect a Penn State that supports climate solutions and is not afraid of taking risks. And this Penn State can lead Pennsylvania—and our world—toward a more just and sustainable future. The election starts on April 10. If you are a Penn State graduate—or you know a Penn State alum—request your ballot today and make a plan to vote in the 2022 Alumni Trustee election.

Together, we can move Penn State forward. And if you aren’t a Penn State graduate, bring this same energy to your own university. Younger generations have grown tired of waiting for climate action. These institutions won’t change on their own, but we can make them.

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