Days after announcing that Yale will host a national conference on climate change in April, University President Richard Levin has confirmed that he will testify next week in front of the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee as Congress prepares to take up debate on a bill that would cap greenhouse gas emissions.
Levin, who has made sustainability one of the pillars of his presidency, has often called for the federal government to confront global warming, and he is expected to repeat that plea in his testimony Thursday before a committee that happens to seat nearly half the Yale alumni currently serving in the U.S. Senate. As he put it in an interview last week, “All of us would like to see the federal government step up.”
The University has not yet publicly announced Levin’s plans to speak, nor has the committee itself released any details. But in response to an inquiry from the News, Levin confirmed Friday that he will indeed testify at the hearing, titled “Examining Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions at U.S. Colleges and Universities,” according to the Web site of the Environment Committee.
By an 11-to-8 vote in December, the committee approved a broad climate change bill that calls for a reduction in greenhouse emissions by some 70 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. It was the first legislation of its kind to be taken up in Congress.
Sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 of Connecticut and Senator John Warner of Virginia, the bill would create a so-called cap-and-trade system in which companies would be given pollution allowances; if they were to achieve levels below the limits on greenhouse gas emissions, they could sell their remaining allowance to other companies, or buy from others if they appeared likely to exceed the emissions cap.
But critics of the legislation have warned it could prove a substantial economic hardship to American industry. The bill is expected to come up for debate before the full Senate in June — making next week’s hearing particularly timely.
Levin, the Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Economics, has spoken widely about sustainability, both from the view of a university president and from the perspective of an economist. He has argued that if Yale’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are any indicator, it should be economically feasible for large institutions to promote sustainability without suffering financially — a point he is likely to emphasize next week, considering the popular complaint against the Lieberman-Warner bill.
Levin’s testimony will be his second major public address on the issue of climate change this year. In January, in a much-anticipated speech at the University of Copenhagen, Levin called for a carbon tax or emissions quota to be backed by the United States, Europe, India and China and adopted worldwide.
Without either measure, Levin said, the voluntary actions of organizations like Yale will not be enough to heed off rising temperatures worldwide.
“The magnitude of the problem highlights one important fact: the solution must be global,” Levin said in his address, the first in a series of public addresses on climate change sponsored by the University of Copenhagen in advance of a United Nations climate summit to be held in Denmark next year.
“If any one of these four economic powers refuses to participate in an international program to reduce carbon, we cannot succeed in stabilizing global temperatures,” he continued. “Any one holdout pursuing a business-as-usual strategy will make the cost of adequate global reduction prohibitive.”
And while Denmark may have been unfamiliar territory for Yale’s president, Levin will hardly be lonely in Washington. In fact, he will not even be the only Eli in the hearing room.
Among the members of the Environment Committee are Lieberman, Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 of New York, Sheldon Whitehouse ’78 of Rhode Island and Amy Klobuchar ’82 of Minnesota, who joined the Yale Corporation at its February meeting to discuss, among other things, climate change.
That issue, meanwhile, continues to receive significant attention at Yale. The University is already several years ahead of schedule in its initiative to bring about a 10-percent cut in its greenhouse-gas emissions from 1990 levels by the year 2020.
And in April, the University will host a conference of state governors on climate change, at which California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who two years ago signed into law the first-ever statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions, will deliver a public address.
At least four other governors — M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Christine Gregoire of Washington and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas — are expected to attend the summit, to be held April 17 and 18 at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.