February 10, 2016

Prof Launches Letter-Writing Campaign to President Garrett, Protesting Rejection of 2035 Carbon Neutrality Goal

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Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences, rallied students to protest President Elizabeth’s Garrett’s rejection of Cornell’s 2035 carbon neutrality goal in a letter-writing campaign launched Feb. 2.

In October, Garrett said she would focus on Cornell’s research and education rather than last year’s Climate Action Plan — in which President Emeritus David Skorton stated that the University planned to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035.

Garrett has not completely made up her mind and is “equivocating on this issue,” according to Monger.

Monger said he immediately emailed students of his Introductory Oceanography class — including a listserv of 3,000 former students — after reading about Garrett’s decision, asking them to write to the president with their concerns.

The letter-writing campaign was inspired by an end-of-semester assignment that Monger has assigned his oceanography class for the past 10 years, in which his students write letters to their congressional representatives about a threat to the environment.

In light of Garrett’s cancer diagnosis, Monger said he plans to deliver the letters — numbering 60 so far — to Provost Michael Kotlikoff instead of Garrett.

Monger said he hopes Kotlikoff will “relay them to Garrett’s senior leadership and to President Garrett herself when she has regained her strength and resumes some of her regular presidential responsibilities.”

Monger’s “greatest hope” for his campaign is that he and his students will convince Garrett to re-commit the University to the carbon neutrality initiative, he said.

Kayla Elyse Brooks ’15, one of Monger’s former students, pointed out that there is an immediate need for action towards carbon neutrality.

“Even 2035 is too late to turn back the clock on our impact on the planet,” Brooks said. “Change is important now.”

Brooks also emphasized that Cornell’s lead could provide an example to other universities.

“There is so much potential for how our movement could snowball not only here within our Cornell community, but for other universities, the country and even the world,” she said.

Brooks added that the original Climate Action Plan — which has already outlined a significant portion of the University’s carbon neutrality plan — is only lacking community support.

“What we need is for the community at Cornell to really stand up and help make it happen any way possible,” Brooks said. “Investment is key to the plan, and we need to be investing resources, ideas and support.”

Emma Kohut ’18 wrote in her letter that Garrett’s decision to reject the carbon neutrality initiative has “lit a flame on campus.”

“This fire will not be extinguished until we see action … My hope is that I attend a university that is on the right side of history,” Kohut said. “My hope is that the faculty and those that lead this institution practice what they teach.”

In his letter, Christopher Feely ’18 said the University has an obligation to stress the importance of environmental consciousness.

“If we can [add] a passion for preserving this planet’s environment to the list of [values cultivated at Cornell], wouldn’t the world be better for it?” Feely said.

Prof. David Shalloway, molecular biology and genetics, said doing research on the prospects of carbon neutrality is not enough.

“We are leaving the consequences to your generation,” Shalloway said. “But we love our children and our students, and it’s critical that they — you — keep reminding us that every delay in our response is going to cause you to suffer and asking us to take action.”

Brooks said she believes students have enough influence to convince Garrett to rethink her decision.

“We are a strong community; we are revolutionary innovators; we are the leaders of tomorrow; we are Cornell,” Brooks said. “I have no doubts we can do anything if we all stand together and figure it out.”