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President Valerie Smith Leads Push for Carbon Pricing

Dean Bond Rose Garden

The Dean Bond Rose Garden in summer.


This open letter from President Valerie Smith appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Aug. 8:

Last Friday, the sequel to Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient TruthAn Inconvenient Sequel, was released in theaters across the country. As the film reminds us, scientific evidence demonstrates that climate change poses an extraordinary threat to human well-being around the globe.

In light of President Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, leaders in civil society can no longer remain on the sidelines. College and university presidents are uniquely positioned to educate and to advocate for an informed discussion about our collective options. For this reason, we must act.

Along with leaders of 125 cities, nine states, 902 businesses and investors, and 183 colleges and universities, I recently signed an open letter committing to concrete emissions reductions that align with the Paris agreement goals. These institutional commitments to reducing emissions are crucial, but to be effective, they must be part of a more comprehensive strategy that works toward systemic change.

Putting a price on carbon has the potential to create meaningful policy and behavioral changes nationwide. More than 30 college and university presidents — the Leadership Circle — have announced our public support for the “Put a Price on It" campaign, an initiative that advocates for carbon pricing as a fair, achievable, and powerful policy response to climate change.

Carbon pricing is premised on the belief that putting a price on carbon will incentivize consumers to reduce their carbon footprints. The Leadership Circle, early adopters of the campaign, have signed a letter calling upon elected officials to act decisively in the face of climate change by putting a price on carbon emissions. This letter signals a commitment on the part of higher education leaders to take a strong stance on solutions to climate change for the good of our students, institutions, and communities.

Climate scientists have argued that in order to mitigate some of the most extreme impacts of climate change, we must keep global average temperatures from rising over two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Aligning the global economy with this goal will require a transformation of our electric, heating, transportation, industrial, and food systems. A price on carbon is a fair, feasible, and powerful way to make successful decarbonization possible. It offers a market-based solution that has the bipartisan support of prominent public figures, including James A. Baker III, Jerry Brown, Al Gore, and George Shultz.

Carbon pricing is a policy mechanism that has broad support in the climate justice movement and is gaining traction across the country. Rather than promoting any particular version of carbon pricing, the “Put a Price on It” campaign leaves questions of implementation open for debate: What are the possible consequences of the existing carbon pricing proposals? What model would best serve low-income families and under-resourced communities? Which is the most likely to garner the consensus necessary to pass into legislation? How can we best balance a predictable market price with a predictable emissions reduction path?

Without strong policies to address climate change at the state and national levels, campus sustainability alone cannot preserve a livable world for future generations. I am proud to join the other presidents in the Leadership Circle in advocating for carbon pricing, and I hope that our statement will encourage others to take a stand alongside us. Together, we can demonstrate to our elected officials the political will necessary to enact effective policy to combat climate change. We have a moral duty to care for the conditions of life on Earth and a civic responsibility to demand action from our government.

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