Oct 30, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Higher education expands its climate push

illustration of a pencil that looks like a thermometer

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New or expanded climate initiatives are popping up at several universities, a sign of the topic's rising prominence and recognition of the threats and opportunities it creates.

Why it matters: Climate and clean energy initiatives at colleges and universities are nothing new, but it shows expanded an campus focus as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, and the world is nowhere near the steep emissions cuts that scientists say are needed to hold future warming in check.

  • It also signals the need to prepare students for jobs in clean tech and climate-related fields, and help researchers see the field through new lenses.
  • The various efforts are wide-ranging and span hard sciences and other fields. There's often an interdisciplinary structure to match how cross-cutting and multidimensional the problem is.

Driving the news: Princeton University yesterday announced a "transformative gift" from the High Meadows Foundation, a philanthropy co-founded by an alum.

  • The money will expand the school's interdisciplinary environmental institute, with a focus on climate change, energy, biodiversity, food and water.
  • The amount was not disclosed, but spokesperson Ben Chang said, "the gift will ensure that environmental research at Princeton will be supported into the next half-century and beyond."

Where it stands... Here are a few more recent examples:

  • Columbia University said in July that it's establishing the "Columbia Climate School."
  • Stanford in May said it's creating a new interdisciplinary climate and sustainability school.
  • Last week brought the announcement of the Climate Social Science Network headquartered at Brown University.

The big picture: Those are just a few schools rolling out new degree programs, bolstering in-house energy and climate think tanks and more in recent years.

  • For instance, last year the University of Dayton introduced new bachelor's programs in sustainability and this year the University of Miami launched a new master's program in urban sustainability and resilience.
  • Or take the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. In 2014, it had two full-time staff and three junior-level researchers, and now has over 60 staff and researchers, per Institute-supplied figures.
  • And that tally does not include staff working with the Climate Impact Lab, an initiative launched a few years ago with Rutgers, the University of California and the Rhodium Group.
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