Harvard University (University), located in Cambridge, and Boston, Massachusetts, will be significantly impacted by climate change.
Cambridge has an average elevation of 30 feet, while Boston is at 20 feet. They are both increasingly vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise. Although University campuses are not located at the lowest areas, rising sea level will first impact the normal operations of the host cities. According to Cambridge government released projection, by 2070, part of Harvard Sq and Allston Campus are vulnerable to flooding.
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According to different sea level rise models, by 2050, sea level may rise by roughly 1 feet (0.3 meter). This would mean most of Harvard Business School and some of the University campus will be highly vulnerable to storm and hurricane surge. By 2100, the sea level may rise by 2 feet (0.6 meter).
Adaptation to climate change would be difficult and expensive. Flooding, which may cause severe property damage, and stronger blizzards, which typically happen during January to February months while school is in session, will increasingly disrupt the school schedule in the decades to come.
In addition to the impact to facilities, the university will have to increasingly consider hardships endured by applicants who were negatively impacted by climate change during its admission process. It does not appear that such mechanisms are in place. Potential mitigation strategies could include special scholarships to areas most severely impacted by climate change, extended application deadline for areas impacted by severe weather events, etc.
University has an office and initiative towards sustainability, focusing on reduce emission, waste, and increase energy efficiency. Based on the latest report, University may not be on track to achieve many of the goals set for 2016, such as 30% reduction in emission.
To help decrease emission, University plans to increase the efficiency of its shuttles and fleet. University has installed electric car charging stations in many parking garages, but usually only 2 stations at each equipped location. These charging stations are Level 2 chargers, which is inexpensive to install (~$500-1000 for the hardware) but relatively low powered. As an EV driver (Nissan Leaf), I personally applaud the University for installing charging stations on campus. However, compared to many other universities that provide charging stations, the University is lagging behind on several aspects. First, there is no charging stations available to the public. Second, these charging stations are not networked, therefore are not shown in PlugShare. In contrast, MIT charging stations are all ChargePoint and internet-connected. University of Massachusetts, Amherst provides networked Level 3 quick charge stations. In 2016 and 2017, a lot of new electric cars will be released with better affordability and longer range. The University should consider significantly increasing its EV charging infrastructure to encourage adoption of EVs. The city of Somerville provides a few free charging stations and free parking for electric cars, while city of Cambridge provides about the same amount but at $1.50/hr rate plus parking cost. Boston also has a few public charging stations that do not charge for electricity. Therefore, the University is not doing enough to mitigate emission from one of the major source, cars.
image credit: plugshare.com 
University has declined to divest the endowment from fossil fuel industry, despite pressure and protests from students. Comparatively, Stanford University has decided to divest from coal.
University, as a leader in many areas, can do a lot more to help mitigate the impact of climate change. University recently started “living laboratory”, a collaboration between Office of Sustainability and Harvard Chan School of Public Health. The goal is to “use campus spaces to inform public health research and apply the findings in capital projects and renovations.” I believe this is a great start and a testbed for innovations which may also help University mitigate risks for itself. University should continue to expand “living laboratory”, which may produce technologies for startups that may become pioneers in green tech industry.
University should consider working with the city of Cambridge to improve public EV charging infrastructure and increase charging stations on campus. Parking Services should strictly enforce parking violations where regular car parked in charging station slots.
University needs to do more with its endowment to align with the goal of mitigating climate change. This is not just a financial issue. Younger generations are increasingly voting with their wallet. If University continues to lag behind, the brand equity will be damaged among prospective students in general. Given that students who are passionate about climate change will be less likely to join University if the endowment is still benefiting from fossil fuel industry, in the long run the University may struggle to attract future “green innovators”.
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