President LeRoy committed to carbon neutrality, and Calvin’s next president should too

In December 2017, President Michael LeRoy signed the Second Nature Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a pledge which required that Calvin University develop and pursue a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by a target date and increase the institution’s resilience to the effects of climate change. The signing of this commitment demonstrated Calvin’s intent to pursue a more sustainable future for the institution because of its Christian mission. But what will happen to this commitment when President LeRoy leaves Calvin? It must not be disregarded or forgotten. Sustainability and climate action must be prioritized in the search for Calvin’s next president.

As a Climate Leadership Fellow with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, I firmly believe that Calvin must continue to strengthen its commitment to climate action because of our Christian mission. Indeed, we cannot profess to be Christ-followers, justice-seekers, or shalom-bringers if we turn a blind eye to the detrimental effects of climate change. Climate change, which is driven by increasingly high human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, threatens the health and wellbeing of our human and nonhuman neighbors whom we are called to love. The United Nations and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration state that the unprecedented rate of warming of Earth’s climate is producing a multitude of consequences. Climate change contributes to water shortages, increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, makes it more challenging to produce food for people and livestock, contributes to rising sea levels and disrupts ecological health and resilience. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that the effects of climate change are already damaging the lives of so many people and creatures around the globe, and these effects will continue to worsen if we fail to take action now.

Calvin has already begun the work of achieving carbon neutrality, but it is imperative that this work be supported and continued in the future. When President LeRoy signed the climate commitment, Calvin commissioned the Sustainability Charter Taskforce, a committee which outlined a plan for achieving the goals of the Climate Commitment and explained why sustainability is a core value of Calvin University. The committee recommended that the university commit to achieving carbon neutrality in 40 years, by 2057. In order to achieve that goal, the institution’s progress is monitored every year and steps are being taken toward both decreasing the amount of carbon the university emits and increasing the amount of carbon it sequesters.

Included in the task force’s report titled “Environmental Sustainability: A Roadmap for Calvin College” is an explanation of why sustainability is central to Calvin’s mission. It references the prophet Micah and his well-known command to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Sustainability, it says, is an important part of doing just that: “The three dimensions of sustainability — ecology, equity, and economy — are part and parcel of this command. Consequently, they are part and parcel of the college mission to train men and women to be agents of renewal in God’s world.”

“Creation care is rooted in who we are and what we do,” declares the opening statement of the sustainability page of Calvin’s website. “We want renewing God’s good earth to be a way of life, so we make sustainability a priority — as an educational goal and an institutional value. We’re committed to learning how to be good caretakers of creation on our campus and around the globe.” If this is true, Calvin must ensure that its next president not only understands the institution’s commitment to sustainability and how it relates to Calvin’s mission, but that they share this commitment to creation care and will help the university continue to pursue climate action in the coming years. Let’s not waste this opportunity to strengthen our commitment to seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our Creator.