Reactions from readers:
“The labs of the world’s great universities gave us the warning about the climate crisis—but now these universities, like all other institutions, have to deal with its scary reality. This book offers some sage ideas about what it means to teach and study amidst a conflagration.”
— Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
“Bryan Alexander’s Universities on Fire is an urgent and necessary book, a must-read around which whole conferences should be organized, because climate change will profoundly impact higher education, and, as Alexander argues, we have agency and a role to play in shaping its inevitable impacts. If we prepare now.”
— Paul J. LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University
“A compelling account of the intersection of academia and climate change from one of our foremost futurists. Using trends and scenarios, Bryan Alexander offers a wide-ranging overview of the threats and opportunities posed to higher education by climate change. By expanding the option space, the book promotes insights that will help stakeholders of colleges and universities understand and assess ways to mitigate or adapt to disruptive challenges.”
— Michael M. Crow, President, Arizona State University
“[T]his book I loved and agree both about the future that awaits us if higher education is not an engaged partner in addressing the climate crisis and about the work to be done. This book is not meant to scare anyone, but it is a strong call to action. It is empirically sound, offers concrete advice, is not U.S.-centric, and the prognosis for our planet has been vetted by leading experts. If you read nothing else from my list, make this the one. Please make your students read it and gift it to friends and family. Do it for the planet.”
The idea for this book appeared after my previous title appeared. Academia Next (Johns Hopkins, 2020) explored the next generation of higher education, focused mostly in the United States. I wanted to go further with the sequel, to look at the whole world of academia, and to forecast further out, towards the year 2100.
As I researched the topic, I was surprised to see little written or presented on about the climate crisis. Amid articles, books, podcasts, presentations, papers, and videos there were many other higher education topics – demographics, enrollment, economics, technology, etc. – but global warming scarcely appeared. Meanwhile, in the futures community climate change loomed ever larger. Indeed, forecasting without taking global warming into account increasingly seemed bizarre, a professional error.
So I wanted to fill in that gap, to take today’s academia ahead 75 years with a focus on what some deem to be humanity’s greatest challenge.
My book-writing process combines research, sharing findings and initial thoughts on social media, writing, incorporating feedback, doing more research, sharing more online, writing more, and so on until my kindly editor makes me stop. This time I found the subject deepening and ramifying at every turn. Considering academic research, for example, led me to address institutional support for interdisciplinary work, the physical fragility of biological sites, the ontological status of art replicas, and the fraught politics around climate change denial. Looking into impacts on physical campuses involved food service, competing architectural standards, the history of lawns, how best to site solar panels, and contracts for out-sourcing electrical power provisioning.
Meanwhile, as I researched and wrote, the world changed. Climate damages struck. Governments switched climate activists for climate deniers and vice versa. A global consensus on taking the crisis seriously formed up, then was stymied by the Ukraine war. And academic responses started to pick up – not getting much publicity, but there nonetheless. In the end my book felt like a combination of present-day snapshot and ambitious forecast.
I hope the information and futuring is useful to anyone in and around higher education. I also hope this book inspires more thinking, discussion, and action. Academics are in a great position to influence the rest of humanity through research, teaching, and service. May we seize the opportunity to be excellent ancestors for a world in crisis.