Williams Embarks on Year of Inquiry to Confront Climate Change

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., September 8, 2016—As the fall semester at Williams College gets under way, a series of speakers, events, and programming is planned for a thematic year of inquiry called “Confronting Climate Change.” Many of the events are open to the public; details about the events and the year of inquiry can be found on the college’s Sustainability website.

Confronting Climate Change was announced last fall by President Adam Falk and the Board of Trustees as part of the college’s comprehensive response to climate change.

As part of this initiative, the Williams community is reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize winner and the Class of 1946 Environmental Fellow-in-Residence, as its Williams Reads selection. The Sept. 17 convocation ceremony will honor five alumni with Bicentennial Medals for their achievements in fields related to sustainability and the environment.

Throughout the year, the college will host speakers who will address various aspects of climate change. The speakers include Van Jones, author and CNN contributor, who will discuss “Green Jobs, Not Jails” on September 28; alumna Maxine Burkett ’98, law professor at the University of Hawaii, who will speak on October 6 about climate justice; alumnus Mark Tercek ’79, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, who will visit October 12 to address the conservation community’s response to climate change; and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, who is scheduled to deliver a talk in April. At the invitation of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Ghana ThinkTank, an international art collective, will be on campus to collect problems related to climate change to be studied by think tanks in Indonesia and Morroco. An art installation at WCMA in January is part of the response from the think tanks. Students also will be engaged with the ThinkTank to gather video footage from the community.

In addition to the speaker series, the college community will be continuing its efforts to measure and reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions, including exercises such as the Wedge Exercise, planned for Winter Study Period. Throughout the summer, students collected and analyzed data to prepare for the Wedge Exercise, which not only identifies opportunities for reducing emissions, but also requires us to confront the difficult choices regarding what we are actually willing to sacrifice in order to reduce emissions.

In his annual letter to the community at the start of the fall semester, Falk also updated the campus on progress the college has made in the past year. He pointed to two local solar projects that the college provided financial support, announced that Hollander, Schapiro, and Horn halls would be outfitted with solar panels, and said a residential annex being planned for the Center for Development Economics would be net-zero for energy. Also, he announced the college now offers retirees and employees a “low carbon” investment fund, and major gift donors can now choose to have their gift to the college’s endowment invested in a fossil fuel-free fund.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.