The enormous risk of being silent on climate change

If it goes unaddressed, climate change has the potential to unleash massive economic, environmental and societal ramifications on how and where we live.

By UC President Janet Napolitano

The science is indisputable: Our climate is changing, the planet is warming and sea levels are rising. Weather patterns are shifting, at times exacting a punishing toll on communities. More and more, taxpayers are footing the bill for the havoc wreaked by powerful floods, wildfires and storms made worse by climate change.

With a new administration in Washington, D.C., the future direction of our nation’s climate strategy is cloudy, and the potential implications for our communities, the environment and our economy are profound. Now more than ever, each of us has a critical role to play in charting our path forward.

We cannot afford to be silent. Climate change is a global threat that demands more of our attention, not less.

Scientists and research universities have a responsibility to keep climate change in the public conscience. We must continue talking about it. We must continue research that provides scientific data to guide our climate strategy. We must doggedly hunt for solutions.

For centuries, science and evidence-based research have served us well, shining a light on the truth and providing a sound foundation on which vast improvements to our quality of life have been forged. Innovations in everything from medicine to space exploration to information technology have been built upon scientific research.

Consider Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Art Rosenfeld, who died last month but whose legacy lives on in his groundbreaking research that gave us energy-efficient refrigerators and windows that trap heat, saving homeowners and businesses billions of dollars in energy costs.

Or consider UC San Diego physicist Veerabhadran Ramanathan’s discovery of the greenhouse effect of halocarbons in 1975 and his accurate prediction of global warming. Last year, he marshaled the work of scientists across the UC system to formulate 10 solutions to counter the effects of climate change; his research and advocacy led California to enact new restrictions on emissions of certain pollutants, including methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and black carbon, to slow the pace of global warming.

At the University of California, we’re not slowing down. We’re attacking climate change across multiple fronts:

· Cultivating the next generation of climate change leaders: UC professors in fields from Swahili to music are incorporating climate change and sustainability into their courses to introduce these concepts to students, especially those in non-science majors who wouldn’t normally be exposed to them. To start, 228 UC faculty members participated in a series of climate curriculum workshops last year. The first of these new course modules debuted this academic year.

· Harnessing the power of the sun: The first of two solar power installations in Fresno County totaling 80 megawatts recently came online, in the largest solar purchase by any U.S. university to date. The power from these two farms is expected to generate about 14 percent of UC’s total electricity use.

· Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency has not only decreased our greenhouse gas emissions, it has made a real impact on our finances. In 2016, UC saved $28 million in energy costs, and since 2004 has avoided nearly $200 million as a result of energy efficiency projects.

· Research that builds knowledge and pinpoints solutions: Our Bending the Curve report offered 10 scalable solutions for moving the world toward carbon neutrality and was presented at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris in 2015. UC scientists continue to study the impacts of climate change and seek practical solutions.

· Investing in climate solutions: UC is the sole institutional investor in the 28-member Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates that is committed to developing technologies to solve the world’s energy and climate challenges. In addition, UC operates three dozen incubators and accelerators that nurture young entrepreneurs, including those working in clean energy and climate solutions.

If it goes unaddressed, climate change has the potential to unleash massive economic, environmental and societal ramifications on how and where we live. It is our responsibility as leaders, as academics, as scientists, as human beings, to act swiftly and decisively to protect the planet we call home. Future generations are counting on us.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn


UC President Janet Napolitano

In November 2013, President Janet Napolitano announced the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, which commits the University of California to emitting net zero greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025. The initiative builds on UC’s pioneering work on climate research and furthers its leadership on sustainable business practices.