A new campus climate change group appears: Cornell on Fire

Bryan Alexander 2023-09-28

How can academics respond to the unfolding climate crisis?

One was is to organize your campus to think hard and to take serious steps about global warming.  Today’s example comes from upstate New York, with the launch of a faculty and local community group calling itself Cornell on Fire.  (I am personally honored by the namecheck to my Universities on Fire book)

The group’s focus now is getting the university to declare an institutional climate emergency:

We, the members of Cornell and the local community, call on Cornell to publicly declare a CLIMATE EMERGENCY and take immediate action commensurate with the planet-wide severity of the ecological crisis. Declaring a climate emergency will amplify existing campaigns while catalyzing new initiatives. This declaration, when backed up by concrete changes in ALL aspects of the university’s functioning, will restore Cornell to its intended role as a hub of public service, focused on intensive and equitable solutions in the face of accelerating climate challenges.

Cornell University footbridge Barbara Friedman

I’m impressed by their call to transform campus operations, one of the key domains for academic climate action. I’m also struck by their emphasis on the university’s public role (“as a hub of public service”).

Cornell on Fire emphasizes its institutional capacity to drive major change: “When fully mobilized, Cornell University’s vast reserves of resources, knowledge, and power can spark a change in our collective approach to the climate crisis, from inertia and incrementalism to transformation.”

They also emphasize social justice, including the rights of indigenous people: “By foregrounding calls for climate justice put forth by underrepresented groups, we can restore right relationship with Earth and with one another, upon these Gayogo̱hó:nǫɁ lands.”

Cornell on Fire’s signup sheet adds another point, that the campus has a lot of capacity on the climate front:

We have everything we need. Cornell houses countless strands of climate action, research, outreach, and teaching. Local governance and activists are poised to enact transformative climate justice locally. Blueprints are in place for a bold, unified push toward rapid change. [emphases in original]

The same page sees higher education playing a significant role in civilizational transformation: “University action could be an inflection point in our society’s transition to climate resilience.” [again, emphases in original]

That’s a signup sheet.  Cornell on Fire is seeking to grow.

Cornell University dramatic

I’m so excited to see a major university community start organizing themselves for the climate crisis.  I’m impressed by their focus (climate emergency declaration) and seriousness (calling for major change, wanting to impact the broader world).

Let’s see more campuses follow suit!

(Cornell photos by Barbara Friedman)