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Preparing for a Crisis

Preparing for a Crisis

Colleges have made progress on building climate sustainability. Now they’re looking to build climate resilience.

Across the country, many universities are taking a close look at sustainability on their campuses. They are recycling, cutting emissions and changing their purchases.

But fewer institutions are choosing to prepare for the real oncoming effects of climate change, even though some degree of warming is -- at this point -- irreversible.

“Even if we were to stop emissions tomorrow completely around the world -- every coal power plant and every petrol car stops running -- the latent warming in the system will already keep ticking along for a significant period of time. Ice caps will keep melting for hundreds of years,” said Alexei Trundle, a research fellow in sustainable urban development at the University of Melbourne. “And the reality is we’re not going to stop right now.”

In 2018, Trundle and his then-colleagues at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia surveyed 45 higher education institutions globally, finding that work around climate adaptation was much less popular than work around climate mitigation. The work that was being done toward resilience was still in the beginning stages at most institutions.

“Even for long-standing institutions, it’s quite hard to look forward at things that are changing over time and look at the probability of something happening that hasn’t been seen before,” said Trundle. “If we don’t look forward, we can have a huge number of stranded assets as a sector.”

Since that paper was published, the number of colleges and universities preparing their campuses for climate change has increased. More than 100 institutions have signed on to commitments from the organization Second Nature that encompass climate resilience, for example.

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