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Higher ed must lead climate change adaptations

Posted June 7, 2013
Bare branches and rust-colored foliage denote dead and dying trees in the Colorado’s Front Range. Credit: Daniel Griffin

Bare branches and rust-colored foliage denote dead and dying trees in the Colorado’s Front Range. Credit: Daniel Griffin

Higher Education institutions play a key role and must be leaders in preparing society to adapt to the needs of a changing climate, according to a new report evaluating education, research, campus sustainability and public outreach.

It boils down to leading by example in working to mitigate the challenges posed to society by a changing climate and creating opportunities in new and more sustainable technologies, said the University of Arizona’s Jonathan Overpeck, a member of the national committee that produced the report and one of world’s leading experts on climate change and policy.

“So often our society is reactive; we’re trying to make it as proactive as we can and position our state and country in the lead in what will become a much bigger driver the world’s economy, meeting the climate change challenge,” said Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment and a professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences.

Published by the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, the report calls on higher education institutions to create campuses that are safe and secure in the face of change, more actively engaged in solving real-world problems and reorganized to better provide the education and research needed to create and maintain a sustainable society.

The UA is cited in the report for its “varied and extensive research in adaptation to climate change,” with specifics projects including “developing adaptation-planning frameworks, understanding consumer choices and their collective impact on the adaptive capacities of communities, and conducting experiments on the resilience of forest and rangeland ecosystems to climate changes to help inform adaptive management of natural resources.”

Beyond this expansive and interdisciplinary world-class research are efforts at green initiatives and sustainable building on campus, a wide range of course offerings to educate the next generation of citizens and leaders on scientific and policy issues related to climate change and solutions, and active, ongoing partnerships with society at large, including lawmakers, community leaders and business sectors.

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