Unity College takes stand against fossil fuels, aims at ‘sustainability science’

By Tom Groening, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 09, 2012, at 3:47 p.m.

UNITY, Maine — Climate change is the world’s biggest environmental challenge, Unity College President Stephen Mulkey believes. So it only makes sense that the small environmental college in western Waldo County would make solving that problem the school’s mission.

Mulkey has persuaded the college’s board of trustees to unanimously vote to divest the school’s endowment funds “from every industry that is polluting this planet,” according to an announcement from the college. The college’s endowment — the funds institutions set aside for investment income — is $13.5 million, according to Debbie Cronin, the college’s vice-president of finance and administration.

“The trustees have looked at the college’s finances in the context of our ethical obligations to our students, and they have chosen to make a stand,” Mulkey wrote in an opinion column offered to all media.

Perhaps more significant than the divestiture, said college spokesman Mark Tardif, the four-year private college is retooling its curriculum to make “sustainability science” its focus.

Colleges have a responsibility to equip the next generation of problem solvers to tackle the climate change challenge, the college has concluded.

The goal is “training people to play a role in mitigating global climate change,” he said. “That is the future, that is the cutting edge,” and, according to Tardif, it is a first for higher education in the nation.

In the opinion column, Mulkey pulls no punches: “We are running out of time. While our policy makers equivocate and avoid the topic of climate change, the window of opportunity for salvaging a livable planet for our children and grandchildren is rapidly closing.”

Mulkey argues that “confrontation-averse” academics are unwilling “to fight to regain the territory illegitimately occupied by the climate change deniers.”

Mulkey challenged his colleagues in higher education to “lead by example,” and asserted that “Those within higher education must now do something they have largely avoided at all costs: confront the policy makers who refuse to accept scientific reality.”

There is precedent for such advocacy, he wrote, comparing Unity College’s divestiture to the colleges and universities which, in the 1980s, insisted that their investments were withdrawn from companies that did business in South Africa. That action helped end apartheid there, Mulkey noted.

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, Mulkey will speak at the Glickman Family Library at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. His address is titled “Crisis and Opportunity in the Environmental Century — Inspiring a Generation of Greatness.” The event is open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 4:45 p.m.

Later that evening, Mulkey will join environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, a website devoted to lowering the world’s carbon emissions, at the State Theatre in Portland.

For more information about sustainability science or the State Theatre event, visit www.unity.edu.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/11/09/news/midcoast/unity-college-takes-stand-against-fossil-fuels-aims-at-sustainability-science/ printed on September 23, 2014