Letter from Sullivan reinforces university commitment to sustainabilty

Lindsay Freed, Staff Writer

UVM President Tom Sullivan sent an email to the UVM community reconfirming the University’s commitment to environmental sustainability June 6.

The email was sent in response to President Donald Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord June 1, according to the email.

The accord, which went into effect November 2016, is an effort by member-states of the U.N. to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, according to the U.N. website.

“UVM has been in the forefront of the study, teaching and research on issues of the environment and climate,” Sullivan stated in the email. “The University has been and will continue to be a university of consequence and importance in this area.”

Over 1,000 universities, attorneys general, mayors and businesses have spoken against Trump’s decision to pull out of the accord by signing an open letter stating their support of the agreement, according to the We Are Still In website.

UVM, however, has not signed the We Are Still In letter, said Tom Gustafson, vice president of University relations and administration.

Signatories of the “We Are Still In” letter include Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Vermont Attorney General Thomas Donovan Jr., NIKE and Christina Paxson, president of Brown University, according to the We Are Still In website.

It is imperative that the world know that in the U.S., the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses,” the website states.

Though the We Are Still In letter is aligned with UVM’s stance on the environment, the direct condemnation of Trump’s administration and its actions is the kind of political language UVM seeks to avoid, Gustafson said.

“Our longstanding approach has been to communicate directly with our UVM community by stating what is actually occurring on campus,” he said, “rather than signing petitions written by others that lack the specific details of actions being taken.”

Sullivan wrote his email to the UVM community to remind people what the University is doing for the environment, Gustafson said.

Sullivan cited examples of UVM’s environment-related programs and initiatives in his email, such as the establishment of the Rubenstein School for Environment and Natural Resources in 2003 and the implementation of a sustainability general education requirement in 2015.

Sixty-five percent of academic departments have at least one sustainability course, and over half of the research-producing departments are involved in sustainability-related research, he stated.

In addition, the Office of Sustainability encourages environmental responsibility through teaching, research and outreach, Sullivan stated.

One project managed by the office is the University’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for the University to use renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, and to limit its carbon footprint, according to the office’s website.

The University is also a part of the Real Food Challenge, a commitment to serve 25 percent “real” food by 2020, Sullivan stated.

Junior Hannah Chodosh said she is frustrated with Sullivan’s decision to not sign the We Are Still In letter.

“Most of what Sullivan listed in his email is not going to have a meaningful impact on the climate,” Chodosh said. “We need to divest from fossil fuels and stand with our peer universities who, by divesting and pledging to support the Paris Climate Accord, are doing their part.”

Chodosh is an intern for 350 Vermont, a nonprofit organization that champions sustainable energy and environmental justice, according to its website.

“To me, at this point, half-steps are about the same as doing nothing at all,” she said.

The U.S. had initially signed on to the accord under former President Barack Obama, but Trump withdrew from the accord because he believes it will put the U.S. at a disadvantage and lead to job loss, lower wages and diminished economic production, according to a June 1 statement made by the president.

Trump is willing to sign the accord if a version can be made that better suits U.S. interests, he said.

“So we’re getting out,” Trump said in his statement. “But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”