Climate Change is Upon Us: What is Lafayette Doing About it?

Michael Mann was on Lafayette’s campus on April 16 for the prestigious Jones Lecture. He delivered a presentation on the necessity of urgency and agency to combat climate change, in front of 350 students, faculty, and families. As one of the leading climate scientists in the country, his work has focused on communicating both the science and the seriousness of the threat of human-induced climate change. Mann discussed the gravity of climate change, its context with the current political landscape, and the importance of active citizenship in addressing this crisis.


Mann’s speech is coming at a time when Lafayette is contributing to the public engagement in climate change protocol through the recent passage of the College’s Climate Action Plan 2.0. Lafayette pledges to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 and Mann’s presentation is an apt transition into a new phase of Lafayette’s green initiative.


“We are in the midst of a tipping point, but not the tipping point we fear,” states Mann who describes the irrefutable science behind global warming and how now we have the ability to acknowledge it and enact change.


Evidence indicates global warming has become overwhelming. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing at an alarming rate which has led to dangerous record-breaking heat from 2014 to 2016.


The impact of climate change has unforeseen consequences that we might not connect but cannot ignore. Recent natural disasters emphasize the different dimensions of destruction climate change is causing. Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Gulf in Aug 2017, showed slowing of Jetstream currents which creates more rainfall and flooding due to more moisture in the atmosphere and warmer ocean temperatures. Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the East coast in Oct 2012, was once predicted to only happen every thousand years, however rising ocean levels now makes it an every-30-year event.


College students are critical to tackling climate change. It is important for students to demand accountability from their policy makers through actions like walk-outs and by changing the conversation because adults have not responded appropriately yet.


Lafayette is responding to climate change by identifying ways students can help reduce their carbon footprint and energy used by the campus. “The plan furthers the College’s mission as an institution that prepares our students to confront the challenges they will face as citizens,” President Byerly states. Lafayette’s climate action plan, as outlined on their website, to invest in renewable energy options, like solar, reduction of heating and electricity energy consumption, and establishment of funds towards student environmental projects is a step in the right direction.   


“I am particularly excited about the teaching and learning opportunities the plan provides,” adds President Byerly, “It furthers the College’s mission as an institution that prepares our students to confront the challenges they will face as citizens.”