Ryan Landvater / Sun File Photo

The Snyder Road Solar Farm, Cornell’s first large-scale solar initiative, is one step the University has taken toward a low carbon future.

June 23, 2016

Cornell Alumni Petition to Join Trustee Board, Promise to Advance Carbon Neutrality

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Hoping to push the Board of Trustees toward carbon neutrality and fossil fuel divestment, two alumni are petitioning to be added as write-in candidates for the position of alumni-elected trustee.

Linda Copman ’83, who helped develop Cornell’s Climate Action Plan, and Joe Rowland ’73, a retired beekeeper, said they consider carbon neutrality “the only sensible way forward” for the University, according to their campaign website.

If Copman and Rowland receive 400 alumni signatures on each of their respective petitions by August 1, they will appear on a March 2017 ballot for the two alumni-at-large positions on the Board of Trustees, according to the Cornell alumni website.

Copman said that, despite the board’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels, she believes that reintroducing discussions on the topic will eventually be fruitful.

“Human progress is usually made by revisiting the same issues over and over again in an attempt to do better, address wrongs and adapt to changing circumstances,” Copman said. “As we come to understand the urgency for climate action in light of recent scientific findings, we will need to revisit past decisions and rethink our approaches to adjust to this emerging information.”

Rowland added that Cornell has a distinct role to play in the fight against climate change repercussions.

“Cornell’s diversity and international standing present a unique opportunity to inspire and lead on this issue,” he said. “I’m confident that this esteemed institution will not exist 150 years hence unless we radically change our energy paradigm and leave the fossil fuel era behind.”

Copman stressed that the Board of Trustees’ deliberative process ought to be accessible and inclusive.

“Many of the problems we face on campus involve a failure to engage in dialogue and value the voices of others,” Copman said. “If we listen to one another, we can find areas of agreement and build trust.”

Rowland also cited shared governance as one of many reasons the Board of Trustees should actively divest the University’s endowment from fossil fuels.

“The Faculty Senate, Student Assembly and more than 25 campus organizations have called on Cornell to divest fossil fuels assets from the endowment,” Rowland wrote in his candidate statement.

Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences — who launched a letter-writing campaign to President Elizabeth Garrett after she announced the University would not keep pace toward achieving carbon neutrality — shared his support for the candidates’ potential to propel the board to action.

“It is my own personal sense that all of the current trustees recognize that humans are largely responsible for the global warming observed over the past century,” Monger said. “[But] I do not think any of the current trustees are fully aware of the short timeline — a matter of two decades — humanity faces to bring the entire planet to carbon neutrality in order to avoid the most catastrophic aspects of climate change.”

Monger stressed the importance of having a strong voice for carbon neutrality on the Board of Trustees.

“Making the 2035 carbon neutrality goal for the campus will cost money and the trustees are charged with the oversight of Cornell’s financial stability,” Monger said. “Consequently, having trustee support for a carbon-neutral campus is absolutely essential.”

If Copman and Rowland meet the 400-signature requirement, their candidacies will accelerate just as the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group — a group composed of Cornell students, faculty and staff — will release “a menu of options and associated costs for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035” on September 1, according to a Sun guest room column submitted jointly by Acting President Kotlikoff, Elizabeth Chi ’18 and David Shalloway.

“A plan that includes a financial and feasibility analysis will provide all of us with the confidence that we will be successful in achieving our carbon neutrality target of 2035,” the signatories asserted.

If their petitions are successful, Copman and Rowland would be added to the ballot alongside four candidates chosen at the end of the official nomination period in November by the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations, according to the Cornell alumni website.