As Brandeis students return to campus for the fall semester, Brandeis’ “Year of Climate Action” will begin. This year-long event, organized by Brandeis’ Office of Sustainability, is meant to “catalyze and deepen our understanding of climate change as a social justice issue through curricular and co-curricular programming throughout the year.”
Information on the Year of Climate Action is available through the Office of Sustainability’s website. Most notably, a draft version of the Brandeis Vision 2030 Plan is available. Vision 2030 is a 38 page document written by the 2019-2020 President’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability, and it’s meant to guide Brandeis’ future as it relates to climate change.
Although the plan itself was never fully adopted, the university has been “pursuing the majority of its recommendations since it was drafted,” said Brandeis’ Sustainability Director Mary Fischer in an email exchange with The Hoot. Fischer also mentioned that “The formal adoption process [for Vision 2030] was derailed by COVID, which hit right as we were finishing it.”
It is of note that the Office of Sustainability never wrote a finalized Vision 2030, but hopes to write a new plan soon, according to Fischer. Although the finalized plan has not been written yet, this draft plan is still of significance and therefore worthy of a critical look. This plan is certainly not perfect, but it is a much needed step in the right direction for the university.
Divestment and Carbon Neutrality
When I read the draft version of Vision 2030, divestment from fossil fuels was at the forefront of my mind. I was unfortunately discouraged by the measures laid out in Vision 2030 that relate to divestment, or the practice of selling off unethical or morally gray investments.
Brandeis has notably not given a time-bound commitment for divestment, which would be a massive step towards carbon neutrality. Fischer mentioned that “university leadership also decided they wanted a study done before making a [carbon] neutrality commitment for a specific year. We have launched that study this summer. The goal is for the study to help us identify a neutrality commitment, and then we hope to write a new climate action plan with that year in mind, taking into account the progress we have made on the recommendations from the draft 2030 plan.”
It’s frustrating to see Brandeis’ administration seemingly kick the can down the road again, something they’ve done since 2013 (by their own admission in Vision 2030). Although Vision 2030 acknowledges that divestment is “one of the most frequent demands” that students make of the Brandeis administration, the plan gives no commitment to divestment.
I sincerely hope that the university’s carbon neutrality study concludes that full divestment from fossil fuels is a necessary and viable measure for the university to take. Continuing to invest between $70 and $80 million in environmental degradation flies contrary to Brandeis’ goal of being a leader in all kinds of justice, and it’s disappointing to see Brandeis’ administration continue to financially support the destruction of our planet.
Climate Change Education
Divestment wasn’t the only topic covered in Vision 2030, though. The document was full of plans to make the university a greener place. The plan also mentioned a desire to integrate climate change education into Brandeis’ core curriculum. This is a fantastic idea, but Vision 2030’s definition of climate change education is too narrow and needs some adjustment prior to implementation.
Vision 2030 advocates for the creation of a new general education requirement focused around climate change, which would be a wonderful addition to the Brandeis Core. Ensuring that Brandeis students graduate with knowledge on climate change is a great way to ensure that Brandeisians are more educated citizens of the world.
The plan mentions that “only a very small percentage of Brandeis students take a course about climate change during their four years of undergraduate study” as justification for the introduction of this new core requirement. While that’s likely true, Vision 2030 uses the AASHE STARS definition of sustainability course offerings to determine how many students have taken a course on climate change. But, sustainability is just a small part of climate change. This definition is not inclusive enough and should be changed to allow for more complete climate change education course offerings.
The AASHE STARS definition fails to consider climate change as a broader topic*. For example, one Environmental Studies course that I took in Spring 2022, ENVS 107b Atmospheric Civics and Diplomacy, was focused on environmental history and would likely not be counted as a climate change education course under this definition*. But, ENVS 107b should absolutely fall under the umbrella of climate change as a broader topic, as environmental history is an integral part of a complete climate change education.
While climate change education should become a part of the Brandeis Core, the required courses should not be based on the AASHE STARS definition. Students should be allowed to take a course on climate justice, climate change biology or any other climate-related topic they’d like instead of having blind perdition towards sustainability. The integration of a new climate-focused core requirement is a fantastic idea, but the finer details of what counts as climate change education should be adjusted.
The Vision 2030 plan contains a lot more, including sections on climate resiliency, physical infrastructure and public transportation subsidization. There’s too much to include in this article, but the plan is well-written overall and covers several topics that the university should prioritize. But, the lack of a commitment to divestment and neutrality is alarming and upsetting. I’m waiting anxiously for the results of the study that Fischer mentioned, and I hope that a binding commitment to a better Brandeis arrives soon.
* The AASHE STARS definition is sufficiently broad to cover a myriad of climate topics.
** ENVS 107b would fit the definition of a climate change education course.