At Senate, Levin urges greenhouse legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In testimony before a Senate panel Thursday, University President Richard Levin called on the federal government to enact legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our future depends on it,” he said.

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Catherine Ly
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The hearing came as the Senate prepares to begin debate on an unprecedented bill that would establish limits on greenhouse gas emissions, a move resoundingly endorsed by Levin and the two other university chancellors who joined him here in front of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which approved the bill in December.

“There’s no doubt,” Levin said in opening his remarks, “that we have a problem.”

Addressing that problem, however, is a more complicated matter, and that is what the committee haggled over on Thursday. Critics of the legislation have argued it would pose an economic hindrance to American industry; Levin, on the other hand, emphasized that Yale and other universities are a perfect example of why that scenario is anything but the case.

“We’re large enough to be a model of responsible environmental practice for other universities and business organizations,” he told the committee. “We’re large enough to demonstrate that greenhouse gas reduction is feasible and affordable.”

Levin found an eager supporter on the committee in Senator Amy Klobuchar ’82, a first-term Democrat of Minnesota who earlier this winter met with the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, in New Haven to discuss the issue of climate change. In an interview with the News on Thursday, Klobuchar praised the University for being on the cutting edge in promoting sustainability.

The hearing — called “Examining Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions at U.S. Colleges and Universities” — came as senior Democrats were meeting to strategize on rallying support for the greenhouse gas reduction legislation that has become known as the Lieberman-Warner bill, named for its authors, Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 of Connecticut and Sen. John Warner of Virginia.

Klobuchar said she hopes Congress will be able to approve the two senators’ bill in this year’s session.

“Certainly with a new president we’ll be successful, but we think it’s really important to push it as soon as possible,” she said. “I went to Greenland, I saw the ice melting off these icebergs like spigots, and I don’t think we can wait.”

To do his part, meanwhile, Levin went to the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Thursday, where he arrived at the Environment Committee’s stately hearing room accompanied by Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Richard Jacob and Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson.

In his testimony, Levin addressed Yale’s efforts to promote sustainability — including the University’s pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from its 1990 levels by the year 2020, even while Yale will drastically expand its physical presence over that time.

“In these efforts to demonstrate best practices in limiting carbon emissions, we are also teaching our students — who are full participants in this campuswide effort — how to be responsible citizens of the world,” Levin said. “And together we’re learning how to balance near-term economic considerations against the longer-term health of the environment and future human generations.”

That was a point that resonated with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse ’78, a Democrat of Rhode Island whose daughter, Molly, is a freshman in Pierson College. Whitehouse praised Yale for turning its sustainability efforts into an educational — as well as policy — effort.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont, said as much, too.

“The degree to which you can involve your student body in greening your campuses, developing sustainable energy, moving toward energy efficiency — what you are doing is educating an entirely new generation who will leave your schools, go out into the world and take the lessons that were learned on your campuses,” Sanders said.

Also testifying during the 70-minute hearing were Jacqueline Johnson, the chancellor of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and Robert Birgeneau, the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

Like Levin, both detailed their own campus’ plans to fight against climate change; at the University of Minnesota, Morris, for instance, a new wind turbine powers half the campus — which will be entirely carbon neutral by 2010, Johnson said in her testimony.

Both Johnson and Levin emphasized that their schools’ greening efforts have not proved financially burdensome. Yale should be able to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goal at a cost of less than 1 percent of Yale’s approximately $2.5 billion annual operating budget, Levin said.

“In our view,” he told the committee, “this added expense is justified, and we believe the leadership of many large organizations will come to the same conclusion.”

But that, he said, is not enough — and Birgeneau agreed, calling the passage of the Lieberman-Warner bill or a similar effort “absolutely critical” for the progress of sustainable policies, lest individual efforts at Berkeley and elsewhere be for naught.

“I feel strongly that while there is so much that universities and other local entities can do to reduce their carbon footprints,” Birgeneau said, “global warming really must be addressed at the national level if we as a nation are going to have the kind of impact we must have to prevent further destruction of our atmosphere.”

The lone dissenting voice at the hearing was Sen. Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho, who voted against the Lieberman-Warner bill in December. He praised the role of universities in furthering sustainability and developing new sources of clean energy, but asserted that the federal government should not force such a legislative mandate upon the American economy vis-a-vis what is known as a cap-and-trade system, in which companies are given pollution allowances that may be bought or sold based on their own levels of greenhouse gas emissions when compared to the national requirement.

“As we ultimately decide a climate change policy, hopefully we will not distort or damage markets or damage our competitiveness in the world marketplace,” Craig said. “The market … today is with these universities and what they will and what their students will produce. That’s the course of the future of energy — not us thinking we are so smart we can manipulate and play games with it here.”

Levin’s speech was taken in part from his much anticipated address on climate change at the University of Copenhagen in January. But he concluded Thursday on a considerably more forceful note.

“I commend the committee for its thoughtful consideration and approval of legislation that would establish a national system for reducing carbon emissions,” Levin said. “Our future,” he added, “depends on it.”


  • Disgusted local

    How come Levin drives to work instead of taking the Yale shuttle or (GASP) W-A-L-K-I-N-G?? He may use a Prius, but that's not "zero emission". Not only should he talk the talk, but should also walk the walk. Despite his other faults, Larry Craig may have a point here.

  • anon

    Medical research uses a lot of energy because of the laboratories involved. Yale Medical School is one of the top 2 institutions in the world in medical research; UC-Berkeley has no medical school. If Craig wants to cut greenhouse emissions, he should look at shutting down the NIH's medical research campus in Maryland. Private university medical research at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford is much more efficient than what the government is doing.

  • Nobel Prize

    How about President Levin inviting Al Gore to be Visiting Professor of Global Resources Analysis.

  • Anonymous

    So wait, #1, you'd rather that Yale send a huge diesel bus up to Levin's house and back twice a day than have Levin log half the distance in a little hybrid? Thanks for the laugh. You know he doesn't actually live on Hillhouse, right? I think Levin should be commended for his leadership on sustainability. Furthermore, Levin's reputation as a world-class economist makes his arguments particularly persuasive and helpful given that the chief opposition to emissions reduction will come from those who claim that such policy will be unacceptably toxic to our economy.

  • antique from the 70's

    Give the guy a break. If he'd been president of Kent State, there never would have been a shooting there. You couldn't ask for a more a more liberal, activist presidency.

  • Anonymous

    This cements Levin's "do as I say, not as I do" reputation, as previously exemplified by his cynical decision to hang onto the early admissions crutch a year after condemning it and urging other schools to drop it.

  • Anonymous

    We all seem to be caught up on this photograph of an empty lecture. Forget the photograph. That is beside the point. What we should be talking about here is how doctors and doctors-to-be learn best -- and, more importantly, how the unique Yale System is the most fertile ground on which to explore new ways of learning.

    In response to post #1, written by the famous cigarette-smoking dromedary, I would say that the "quality" of a lecture is also beside the point. My article questions the utility of lecture-based learning, in general. Even the best lecturers are limited in what they can do when speaking to a crowd of 100 (or a crowd of 6). Take that same lecturer, however, and place him in a small classroom of ten or twelve students and the likelihood of a fruitful discussion increases tremendously. (I've seen it!)

  • Alum

    I am a Yale College alum, but I attended a different medical school. I think this article is hogwash. I believe that lectures in med school are of vital importance. They should never be completely replaced with small group discussions. I attended a med school that was heavily lecture-weighted during the first 2 years, but also had a fair share of small group sessions based ont hose lectures. I am a firm believer that the more times one hears material, the more it sinks in. You need to get a lecure to be introduced to material, reading by yourself to consolidate what you've learned and finally small group sessions to synthesize what you've learned and make it clinically relevant. To eliminate any part of this chain would be bad.

    And by the way, the author seems to think there are no more lectures after second year of med school - think again. You will have plenty of lectures on the wards. They won't be as long or as formal as in the first 2 years, but they will happen and they will be very valuable to you. In fact, you will often be responsible to making short lectures (aka presentations) to other students and fellow doctors. This cycle of learning never stops, nor should it.

  • Craig is ridiculous

    After pleading guilty to soliciting sex in a public bathroom, how does Larry Craig even have the nerve to say the nasty things about Yale that he did?

  • Moish Glukovsky

    Someone please tell me how Richard Levin is qualified to ask for legislation on greenhouse emissions? I wasn't aware of his credentials as an environmental scientist. Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. Global warming is a matter of faith, not science! Silly me.

  • Anon

    I wonder if Levin took the train took a train to DC or a gas-guzzling jet. I'm betting the latter.

  • Terry Buchanan


    I share Moish Glukovsky's (#7)question about Mr. Levin's credentials as an environmental scientist. He certainly is devoting much time to the "Greening of Yale". Does anyone remember how his Law School star professor quarterbacked the lawsuit against the Defense Department re: the Solomon Amendment involving recruiting law graduates for the military?

    The Supreme Court ruling 9-0 against the Yale team!

    Perhaps the issue re: climate change and global warming is not a 100% done deal either vs. the opposition.

    A sunny, skeptical Californian

  • Tom

    The impact of the legislation is projected to eliminate 4,000,000 jobs nationwide. A percentage of those jobs are not likely to simply disappear, but rather be displaced to other foreign countries like China, India, and others. In the process of doing so, other countries' unregulated industrial engines will stoke the green house emissions still further. In an attempt to control our contribution to the greenhouse emissions, we very well could be the root cause for an increase.

    I'm in favor of reducing green house emissions. I'm do not supporte changes that are politically popular while environmentally questionable.