Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - December 12, 2019

Chancellor, The California State University
Environmental and Climate Change Literacy Project and Summit (ECCLPS)
Opening Remarks (as prepared)
​University of California, Los Angeles
December 12, 2019

Thank you, Darlene, for your gracious introduction and good morning! It's a pleasure to be with you all today.

Like any scientist who finds him or herself in front of a microphone at an event dedicated to addressing climate change, all my instincts are to expound – at high and ever-increasing volume – about the existential implications of climate change and the impossible-to-ignore urgency to act immediately.

This morning, though, I am going to resist those powerful instincts knowing that first, I would be preaching to the choir, given the audience of esteemed educators and climate experts assembled here today and, second, those topics will be addressed throughout the day by renowned climate researchers, educators and advocates who are immersed in these issues on a day-to-day basis.

Instead, I want to reflect on the California State University's role in this collaborative effort with the University of California and other key stakeholders from throughout the state and across the nation. I am struck by how closely aligned the ECCLPS initiative is with the work and mission of the CSU – and I am both enthusiastic and optimistic about what we bring to this partnership.

Much like the CSU, ECCLPS's great promise lies in leveraging the power of education at scale. Leaders and advocates – no matter how knowledgeable, no matter how charismatic – are simply not enough to meet the climate change challenge before us. What's required is the transfer of that knowledge, passion and sense of urgency throughout all levels of society – to empower informed decision making in every household, in every community and in every workforce sector.

ECCLPS's mission – to help California high schools graduate half a million climate-literate, environmental champions every year – is consequential. And its focus on teacher preparation and curriculum development plays to some of the CSU's greatest strengths.

Teacher education is in our DNA and can be traced to Cal State's earliest ancestor – the Minns Evening Normal School – which was established in 1857 to prepare San Francisco's high school teachers, before moving to San Jose in 1871 and ultimately becoming San Jose State University.

Today, the CSU leads the nation in teacher preparation and education innovation, preparing half of California's teachers and nearly one in twelve nationally. And, across our 23 campuses, sustainability education is integrated into our teacher preparation programs. You'll hear about just a few of those innovative programs and high-impact practices in panel discussions and roundtable sessions later today.

But I want to emphasize that these groundbreaking teacher education programs are just part of a holistic movement to integrate sustainability throughout our curriculum. A critical part of the CSU mission is to develop the workforce that will drive California's future prosperity – a future prosperity that we know now is utterly dependent on sustainability and climate literacy. Not only do we need graduates with the knowledge and skills for the emerging green economy, California needs environmental champions across all sectors. We need climate-literate engineers, social workers, public servants, agriculture professionals, healthcare providers, business executives, artists, architects and, of course, scientists and teachers.

That's why, in addition to offering specialized degrees and minors in topics related to sustainability and climate solutions, CSU campuses are integrating climate and sustainability courses across all academic disciplines. Currently, more than 4,500 sustainability-related courses are offered systemwide. And a growing number of campuses are creating sustainability general education pathways, enabling students – regardless of major – to fulfill their GE requirements while simultaneously acquiring depth of knowledge in environmental, climate and sustainability issues.

The CSU's Campus as a Living Lab, or “CALL" program, provides grants for initiatives that help give students an experiential learning experience while simultaneously addressing a campus facility or operational sustainability goal. Currently, 68 CALL projects have been developed across the CSU, focusing on areas including restoration ecology, the re-use of food waste and energy efficiency, among many others.

Opportunities for multidisciplinary research exist at more than 65 sustainability-related academic institutes or research centers at CSU campuses, many dedicated to providing solutions to the most pressing environmental issues facing the local communities our campuses serve. Examples include Chico State's Regenerative Agriculture Initiative, which shows great potential in the areas of climate and food policy, agricultural husbandry practices and business models, as well as food justice. At San Jose State, students in the Spartan Superway project are working to develop solar-powered, automated rapid-transit network systems for urban environments to address some of the critical transportation challenges facing the Silicon Valley and beyond.

Additional research opportunities – and much-needed opportunities to connect with the natural environment – are available at 30 marine labs and biological field stations – encompassing more than 77,000 acres owned or operated by CSU campuses – a truly remarkable but lesser-known university resource.

Leveraging the power of education at scale and preparing a workforce to drive California's future prosperity – these are two critical ways ECCLPS is aligned with the broader work and mission of the CSU. But there's also a third, advancing equity for disadvantaged Californians.

Most of us in this room understand that the impacts of climate change – on health, finances and overall quality of life – fall disproportionately on low-income and historically underserved populations. These individuals are more exposed to pollution; they often live in housing with insufficient insulation or air conditioning; they spend larger percentages of household income on energy costs; they comprise large percentages of workforces – in agriculture, for example – likely to experience economic hardship related to climate change; and their communities often take longer to bounce back from climate-related natural disaster. And these existing inequalities will only be exacerbated as the impacts of climate change intensify.

In addition to being the nation's largest four-year public university, the CSU is also its most ethnically and economically diverse. Of our more than 480,000 students, over half are students of color. Forty-three percent receive Pell Grants and one-third are the first in their families to attend college.

Because of this dynamic diversity – and because of the affordable, high-quality education provided by our skilled and dedicated faculty and staff – the CSU is a powerful escalator of social mobility. In fact, about three weeks ago, CollegeNET released its 2019 social mobility index, a data-driven ranking of colleges and universities that graduate low-income students into well-paying jobs. Seventeen of the country's top-25 were Cal State institutions.

Our graduates – so many of whom are not place-bound, but place-committed – use their knowledge and skills to elevate the families and communities they love. And, through our commitment to sustainability and through collaborative efforts such as ECCLPS, our graduates are increasingly climate literate, able and inspired to contribute to solutions, to educate future generations of climate champions and to be a powerful and effective voice for environmental justice across our great state.

As the California State University is deeply committed to preparing our diverse students to thrive in – and indeed, to lead – California's future workforce, so too must we be deeply committed to sustainability and climate literacy. Because, as we well know, the former will ultimately cease to exist without the latter. I applaud ECCLPS's work, and look forward to continuing to partner with the University of California and other stakeholders in this consequential initiative.

It's now my privilege and great pleasure to say a few brief words of introduction for our next speaker, the honorable Jerry Brown.

The former governor has impacted my life in many ways and for many years. In fact, he was governor when I received my PhD from UC Berkeley back in the seventies – his signature is on my diploma. He was also governor in 2011, when my son graduated from Cal State East Bay, about 35 years later. I can remember comparing the two diplomas and being struck by the fact that the two signatures were exactly the same. I mean, they were identical. I don't know if that reflects the steady hand of a great leader or the governor's frugality in hanging on to the same rubber stamp over the course of three decades, but it was truly remarkable.

While Governor Brown was commended for extending that same frugality to his handling of the state budget, he invested wisely in public higher education and the CSU, at the same time challenging us to do more, to do better. We took that challenge to heart and have risen to it.

When it comes to sustainability and battling climate change, he is second to none among state, national and – one can easily make the case – global leaders. He has consistently taken a bold and courageous stance to advance sustainability in all its dimensions – and his vision and resolve have never been more essential, more necessary, than right now at a time when there is a void in national leadership on this vitally important issue impacting our planet and all who inhabit it.

For all of this – among many other things – I thank our former governor.

Please join me in welcoming the honorable Jerry Brown.