Letter to the Editor

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

An active participant in the American College and University College Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) when I was president of Allegheny College, I would like to respond to the Jan. 19 letter from Dr. H. Scott Matthews, “PCC a weak attempt to decrease universities’ carbon footprints.”

It is not my purpose here to convince Carnegie Mellon to sign the ACUPCC but simply to clarify what the ACUPCC entails.

ACUPCC signatories understand that paths to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions will unfold only as technologies and circumstances evolve. Setting ambitious goals seldom involves knowing exactly how those goals will be reached — it is an aspirational act that leads innovation. The ACUPCC provides a framework with enough structure to ensure effective action and enough flexibility to allow each college and university to chart its own course and target date for carbon neutrality. I disagree that it is a “bad educational example” to set an ambitious goal and engage people in the creative process of achieving it — in fact that is at the core of leadership.

Rather than being a “10-step plan,” the ACUPCC is a pledge to create a climate action plan within two years and to take at least two of seven specified tangible actions during compilation of a greenhouse gas inventory and development of a plan to ensure near-term progress toward climate neutrality.

The earlier letter misses an important aspect of the ACUPCC — the collective action it represents, action that is opening up new opportunities and facilitating collaboration. It is also demonstrating critically needed leadership to the business community, the government, and the electorate.

I share Dr. Matthews’ disappointment that because Carnegie Mellon has chosen not to sign the ACUPCC at this time, some of Carnegie Mellon’s constituents are questioning the university’s commitment to sustainability. I commend Carnegie Mellon for its ongoing leadership and hope that when the time is right, that leadership will be leveraged as part of ACUPCC’s collective action — for the benefit of the network and the broader effort to address the climate challenge.

Richard J. Cook, President Emeritus, Allegheny College