Higher education and climate change, a view from late 2020

This week I gave a short talk on climate change and higher education. The venue was the EDUCAUSE annual conference, online entirely for the first time.

This was a new talk. I haven’t spoken solely to climate change and academia since… perhaps ever. I’ve touched on it in many presentations, but never exclusively, so I had a good opportunity to dig into the ideas I’ve been blogging and book-writing about.

Here are the slides:

And here’s my outline.

  1. Impacts on campus operations and environment.
  2. Possibly relocation due to water, prairie, desert expansion.
  3. Changes to campus IT: funding, operations, assessing new technologies. Example of open.
  4. Impact on research.
  5. ” ” teaching: curriculum, culture.
  6. Role of academics in the crisis.
  7. Lessons from 2020: innovation, stress, social justice.
  8. COVID-19 as dry run for climate change.
  9. Potential impact on national/international higher ed.
  10. How all of this interacts with trends before 2020? (Shameless book plug)
  11. Positive thoughts and inspiration.

I wasn’t sure how folks would respond. This is a very heavy, very deep topic, and one that might not fit in mind during the crises of 2020. But participants found themselves deep in thought:

The audience then offered plenty of questions, happily. I answered some before out time was up, but wanted to share them all with you to give a sense of the topic’s depth and complexity:

remote work — a long term viable option versus returning to campus work. A lot of resistance — what to do? Any suggestions how to frame the conversation?

What are colleges currently doing related to Sustainable IT? Is there a report on this?

What is the future of instructional design? What skills and resources are needed for engaging online learning?

How do enrollment trends factor in? ie, how can universities tackle climate problems in the face of declining enrollments/budgets?

Should we renew the academic pool of lecturers? When the same ones taught business as usual for so many years? How can we expect them to change their mind (thinking about all those Business schools with their MBA for instance). We knew about the planet resources limit since the 70s

How would you propose we gather together the right campus folks to start brainstorming these problems?

how do you see climate change and COVID impacting both physical and digital accessibility for those with disabilities?

will 2020 be the big switch or just a major pandemic with every one running as fast as possible (once over) to life and business as usual?

What do you think of the desalination extraction of seawater?

You mentioned climate refugees. How do we as academics advocate for and facilitate the relocation of climate refugees?

We also have the most wind power in the world centralized in the United States. Have you considered this as a source of carbon free energy for power in the future?

How do you feel for profit education who has demonstrated innovation will impact not for profit higher education institutions?

I was struck by how practical most discussion was. How do we plan for this? Who should take the lead? What is the role of faculty?

After my macro view, the audience did manage some big picture questions. Connecting 2020 to climate change was difficult and rarely attempted. Folks were interested in this year for its own sake, which makes sense.

From my side, I think I successfully communicated a few things: that climate change is a huge and sustained challenge to colleges and universities; that is hits across the academic ecosystem; that we need to plan out the complexities sooner rather than later.

My thanks to Christopher Brooks for moderating the session. Thanks, too, to a very thoughtful audience, and to EDUCAUSE for providing the venue.

(cross-posted to my blog)

Futurist, speaker, writer, consultant, educator. Author of the FTTE report and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.