Following the announcement last month that Yale’s Climate and Energy Institute would close at the end of this academic year, student and faculty climate change activists and University administrators seem to disagree over whether Yale is sufficiently dedicated to climate change initiatives.
Some professors and students involved with the YCEI said Yale’s decision to defund the eight-year-old institute reflects a larger lack of commitment for climate and energy research from University President Peter Salovey’s administration. The institute’s gradual decline stemmed from top-down budget cuts over the past two years. While YCEI faculty and students have not yet directly confronted the University about the institute’s closure, they speculated that Salovey has been unsupportive of climate change research.
“We had a full budget before Salovey,” said Matthew Goldklang ’16, YCEI New Haven Energy Scholar intern. “I had no idea we were going to be completely cut. It’s really sad.”
Salovey and University Provost Benjamin Polak strongly disputed the notion that the current administration has been moving resources away from climate change research. Polak said that over the past three years, the total budget for climate-change-related programs and initiatives, which includes the Energy Sciences Institute at West Campus and the Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, has grown. He added that climate-change-related research is an area in which the University is actively fundraising and seeking grants.
Salovey said the closure of the YCEI does not mean his administration is less committed to climate change initiatives. Rather, it reflects the natural consolidation of those initiatives as Yale’s overall commitment to them deepens.
As Salovey entered his second year as president, he unveiled six new sustainability initiatives. These included a $21-million capital investment in energy conservation and greenhouse gas reductions, a task force to investigate the feasibility of “carbon charging” at Yale and funded fellowships for “green innovation.”
“I think research in climate science, and particularly on climate and energy, is some of the most important research that Yale can sponsor,” Salovey said. “I feel that way because I think global climate change is the most significant public issue facing the world today.”
Salovey pointed out that he oversaw the funding of the YCEI as provost and, without going into specifics, said he expects the growing Yale Energy Sciences Institute at the West Campus to be “very interested” in bringing faculty formerly involved with the YCEI on board.
Michael Oristaglio, executive director of the YCEI and a researcher in geology & geophysics, said the institute’s budget had already been cut by 50 percent for the current academic year. He added that the budget for the institute has essentially only been reduced twice — first for the 2015–16 academic year and again this spring, which resulted in the complete defunding of the center. Both cuts occurred under Salovey.
The YCEI formerly employed undergraduate fellows but turned those paid positions into volunteer roles after they became unfeasible under the 50 percent budget cut. Funding for conferences and events was also diminished. James Barile ’18, who is involved with YCEI though a solar energy initiative, said the budget only allowed for minor spending on things like food for events. Previously, the YCEI funded visiting speakers and allowed students to craft course syllabi in the Energy Studies Undergraduate Scholars program.
Accusing Salovey’s administration of being inattentive toward climate change may be tempting but unfounded. While Yale has eliminated initiatives like the YCEI, Salovey’s administration has also taken steps to bring the University in line with its peer institutions’ climate change projects. Other institutions have YCEI equivalents, such as the Princeton Center for Energy and the Environment, the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Stanford Institute for Energy.