Editorial: Thinking 31 years into the future


According to a report by climate researchers David Spratt and Ian Dunlop of Melbourne, Australia, climate change will pose an irreversible threat to humanity come 2050.

Through their study, Spratt and Dunlop found if international leaders fail to implement significant changes, the worst case scenario could mean “sea levels will rise by up to 25 meters and 55 percent of the global population will face 20 days a year of lethal heat conditions, beyond the threshold of human survivability,” the study warns. 

Here we are, just 31 years between now and perhaps the irreversible repercussions of humanity’s exploitation of earth’s resources. And while it is common to blame the climate crisis on plastic straws, long showers and incandescent light bulbs, the issue exists at a deeper level. This existential threat tests humanity’s ability to unite in individual differences and redefine roles in the global community.

Next year, Lehigh’s 2020 campus sustainability plan will reach its expiration date, granting our community an opportunity to implement updated and significant environmental regulations across campus. 

The Office of Sustainability has proven its dedication to transform Lehigh into a green campus and has been recognized by The Princeton Review, Sierra Magazine and STARS as a leader in sustainable campuses. 

But with such leadership comes responsibility. And as the student and faculty activists develop a plan following 2020, it is critical that we continue to be bold in our collective expectations. 

Not only are we leaders in sustainability, but our university is a prominent research institution, with great capabilities to inform not just scholars, but everyday civilians on the severity of the climate crisis. 

In his book The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells acknowledges what many avoid out of fear.

“If the planet was brought to the brink of climate catastrophe within the lifetime of a single generation, the responsibility to avoid it belongs with a single generation, too. We all also know that second lifetime. It is ours,” he writes.  

As Lehigh students, we will all go our separate ways to pursue our careers and fight for a better world, but what about now? 31 years before 2050, we all have one thing in common: We are members of the Lehigh community, and it is our responsibility to invest in these four years, not just as a sustainable institution, but an exemplary student body. 

Lehigh’s sustainability plan acknowledges Lehigh’s influence.

“With 2,358 acres, more than 160 buildings and nearly 7,000 students, Lehigh University recognizes its responsibility to model a sustainable campus and contribute to the health of our planet as a whole… Lehigh works hard to develop future leaders who will strive to solve pressing global climate challenges for years to come,” the plan states.

We are more than 2,358 acres and 160 buildings. We are an active, inquisitive representation of what our global community is capable of through collaborative change. We are more than Lehigh students. We are the catalysts to boldly and sacrificially redefine what it means to be human on the planet that we call home. 

And while our four years at Lehigh help to prepare us for takeoff, as students, we are already in orbit. How we choose to commit to sustainability throughout our four years here sets the expectation for how we will lead in the future. 

So, what does this mean for the campus’s future initiatives?  First, we must recognize not just the responsibility, but the privilege we have to lead in sustainability across college campuses. And while the Office of Sustainability provides concrete steps to better the university, what we stand for extends beyond a four-year plan. 

Our dedication to the future of this planet is seen in how we address disagreements, encourage positive change and address setbacks. As a community, we must not compete against one another in the pursuit of a green campus. Instead, we must acknowledge the positive influence our campus has, and recognize its potential to impact the planet. We must actively work to hold each other accountable.

We are 31 years away from 2050, but climate change is not a waiting game. We are here now, and it’s time to exceed our foreseen potential as a student body and take action. 


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  1. Amy Charles ‘89 on

    Aren’t you the people who were just complaining about how you don’t have anywhere to park on campus? You know, the ones who hadn’t figured out how to use buses and bikes for getting around?

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      I think these are different writers, showing that The Brown and White (B&W) as an organization has a wide spectrum of views.

  2. First & foremost is the media mission to make you believe we face a climate catastrophe in order to make their report get attention. Second- suggest you look at who funded the Australian study.
    Third-climate change has been occurring for thousands of years since the ice age ended when Bethlehem was ice covered.

    We will continue to adjust to warmer temperatures & the increased food production that offers including perhaps Florida orange groves eventually in Bethlehem!!

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      Patriot2: Points one and two (who and why) are always appropriate when someone is trying to influence you. Point three is immaterial to a degree because the earth’s climate has been changing from its formation. The pace of change is important as well as the local effects of change. NASA research indicates a relatively large decrease in ice surface in the Arctic and a relatively small increase in Antarctic ice coverage. Polar Bears are worried but Emperor Penguins are fat dumb and happy.

      I’ll assume a global climate catastrophe is not going to occur but that may not protect humans. What happens if the US has another Dust Bowl climatic incident. Does other available farmland exist to take up the slack? Travel the interstate (or 22) south through Harrisburg to Maryland and note all the prime farmland replaced by subdivisions, strip development and warehousing. I would say political and economic costs removes that land from future food production.

      Feel free to deny a global environmental crisis but don’t ignore local weather changes. I’d feel safe in Bethlehem but I,d be wary if I lived in coastal lowlands. SEDAC states: “There are about 620,000 kilometers (372,000 miles) of coastline. Over one-third of the total human population, nearly 2.4 billion people, lives within 100 km (60 miles) of an oceanic coast…”

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