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Climate Action

Student rally for climate action on Magill Walk.

Student rally for climate action on Magill Walk. 

The climate emergency is an unprecedented challenge and a defining issue of our time with broad implications for social justice, human rights, and ecological and public health.

As an educational institution committed to the greater good, and with recognition of diverse voices that make up our community and the communities around us, Swarthmore is committed to playing a leadership role in the transition to a just and sustainable world.

Climate Action Planning

Swarthmore is working to address the climate crisis in a variety of ways. Following then-President Rebecca Chopp’s signature of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (now the Carbon Leadership Commitment) in 2010, Swarthmore developed a greenhouse gas inventory [pdf] and convened a Climate Action Planning Committee to create a Climate Action Plan [pdf] for the College. The greenhouse gas inventory is updated every year, and is publicly available through Second Nature’s reporting platform. Read more about our latest greenhouse gas inventory here.

Carbon Neutrality

The College has committed to achieving carbon neutrality no later than 2035. In support of this commitment, we have developed a comprehensive energy plan, called the Roadmap to Zero Carbon, which charts our path to eliminating our Scope 1 and 2 emissions on campus. Read more about the decarbonizing Swarthmore’s energy systems here

Carbon Charge Program

In order to support emissions reductions on campus, educate our campus community, and support broader policy action in the face of the climate crisis, Swarthmore implemented an internal Carbon Charge Program in 2016. This award-winning program consists of two components: an internal carbon fee on College departments, and a shadow price used in capital planning decisions. Learn more here

Climate Emergency Declaration

President Valerie Smith underscored Swarthmore’s commitment to climate action in September 2019 by signing the Sustainable Development Goals Climate Emergency Letter, adding the College to the growing list of more than 160 higher and further education institutions around the world that have collectively declared a global climate emergency. According to President Smith, “The climate crisis poses an unprecedented challenge to our global society — a challenge that we must meet with urgency and action. Institutions of higher learning are uniquely positioned to facilitate informed discussions of this crisis and ways it can be addressed.”

Climate Crisis Strategy

To explore how the College responds to the urgency of climate change within the context of our mission, the Office of Sustainability facilitated input from students, alumni, faculty, campus departments, and members of the Ecosphere committees to develop a Climate Crisis Strategy in 2018-2019. Through open collaborative conversations, work sessions, and sharing at departmental meetings, hundreds of community members provided feedback. A current draft of this strategy is available here

Council on the Uncertain Human Future

Swarthmore College works with the Council on the Uncertain Human Future (CUHF), an international network with Councils based at Clark University, MIT, the University of Edinburgh, UC Berkeley and other higher education institutions, as well as among regional and nonprofit groups in the Bay Area, Santa Fe, Kathmandu, the Boston area and other locations. This process uses the practice of sitting in “council” to engage in an intentional dialogue and collective reflection on the climate crisis and the interconnected issues around it. Attendees are asked to slow down and listen deeply to themselves and one another; the process builds collaborative insight and allows for creative emergence as we consider implications for our individual lives and society. In the traditional CUHF, we ask what is taking place, why is it happening, what are the implications and how do we choose to conduct ourselves now? How do we live, given what we know? 

In 2019, students in the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship program helped facilitate a Council convening at Swarthmore College, and the Office of Sustainability has continued to offer the Council to members of the campus community, and has supported a handful of community members to become trained facilitators. In the more recent Council in this time of Reckoning, we more specifically consider the intersections of the climate challenge, systemic racism, the pandemic and rising authoritarianism. If you’re interested in participating in a Council or learning more about this process, please reach out to the Office of Sustainability at