The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, founded in 1780, is both a membership society that honors excellence and a nonpartisan research organization engaging leaders from across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address major challenges. A recent statement by the Academy’s Board of Directors, attesting to the reality and urgency of climate change, commits the Academy to confront the existential threat of climate change.
“Our founders intended for the Academy to help a new nation through its greatest challenges, and there is no question that the devastation of climate change threatens our planet and must be addressed with meaningful and immediate action from every segment of our society,” said David Oxtoby, President of the Academy and a scientist.
The Academy’s Board rarely issues statements, preferring that its projects and publications convey priorities and recommendations. However, in the summer of 2021 the Board – chaired by Nancy C. Andrews, Dean Emerita of Duke University School of Medicine – determined that the significant, incontrovertible threat of climate change warranted a declaration. The call to action includes the following statement:
“All of us – scientists, engineers, humanists, lawyers, social scientists, educators, artists, and individuals from the private sector and government – must work together to limit and respond to climate change. In these efforts, we need to collaborate with national and international companies, organizations, and institutions.”
The Board statement is both an endorsement of widespread efforts to act and the beginning of an Academy initiative: the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action is a nonpartisan, multidisciplinary, multiyear project launching this fall that will focus on identifying barriers to climate action and recommending how the United States can accelerate climate mitigation and adaptation for all Americans.
The four cochairs of the commission bring leadership in academia, industry, and social justice to the work ahead:
Christopher Field - Perry L. McCarty Director, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University
Catherine Coleman Flowers - Founder, The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice; Rural Development Manager, Equal Justice Initiative
David G. Victor - Co-Director, Deep Decarbonization Initiative and Professor of Innovation and Public Policy, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California San Diego
Patricia Vincent-Collawn - Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, PNM Resources, Inc.
With the goal of developing a shared understanding of climate change issues facing people nationwide, the cochairs are engaging a diverse group of leaders who recognize the urgency of the situation and the importance of developing an inclusive approach to accelerating action in response. More than a dozen experts – from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives – have already agreed to participate. Information about the project’s priorities and the Commissioners already involved is online.
The first phase of the work of the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action is made possible through the generous support of Roger Sant and Doris Matsui, Hansjörg Wyss, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the David and Ellen Lee Family Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and an endowment provided by John E. Bryson and Louise Henry Bryson.
The statement on climate change and the focus of the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action demonstrate the ways in which the Academy continues to evolve, in its 241st year, as an organization meeting the challenges of the 21st century while rooted in its founding mission to advance the common good.