More academic climate action occurring

Bryan Alexander
4 min readNov 1, 2023

Greetings from COVID containment. My wife and I remain sequestered. We spent Halloween night watching costumed visitors from our bedroom window and watching horror movies.

But COVID can’t stop my work! Today I’d like to share several stories about global warming and academia. I think they might be evidence of rising climate action within higher education.

First, students from six campuses — Pennsylvania State University, Tufts University, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, Pomona College, and Washington University in St Louis — filed legal complaints with their respective states atttorneys general. The charge: “by investing in coal, oil and gas, the schools are violating their obligations as non-profit organizations to prioritize the public interest.”

I found several interesting details in this story. For one, it wasn’t just students: “Each filing elicited signatures of support from dozens of faculty and staff members, alumni and local, national and international climate-focused groups.”

For another, they charged campus fiscal support of fossil fuel firms to be contrary to institutions’ intellectual missions:

“Fossil fuel companies have long engaged in a well-documented campaign to undermine climate science and distort public debate about how to deal with the climate crisis — including through efforts targeting Penn scientists and researchers,” University of Pennsylvania students wrote in their filing. “The industry’s spread of scientific misinformation undermines the work of Penn faculty and students who are researching and designing solutions for a sustainable future.”

Students also raised this point about consistency:

“If universities say, ‘We’re climate leaders, we stand for justice,’ but then on the other hand financially contribute to the climate crisis, we just see that as unacceptable,” said Moli Ma, an undergraduate student at Tufts, who helped lead the complaint against her university. “There’s an incongruence there. It doesn’t match up.”

“A view of the oil fields from the bluff on Panorama in Northeast Bakersfield, CA — USA”

Not being a lawyer, I can’t offer authoritative comments, but was struck by two legal strategies which look to be nearly universally applicable. One concerns a specific law, which paying petroleum companies might…

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Bryan Alexander

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