University of Michigan faculty assessed the potential threats to environmental climate change policy under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump to an audience of about 100 student, faculty and staff Tuesday evening in the Dana Building.
Trump has rejected scientific evidence of climate change and said he hopes to dismantle standing legislation that addresses it.
The discussion was part of an ongoing lecture series on energy consumption and the environment. Tuesday’s lecture was organized by the Students for Clean Energy, a student organization devoted to advocacy, outreach, student activism and education surrounding clean energy.
LSA senior Jayson Toweh, president of Students for Clean Energy, said he thought it was even more important to talk about climate change following the election.
“I’ve been struggling with optimism related to the environment, but we’ve been getting more active and doing more education, so I think the election has created more people being active in the political realm and environmental issues as the whole,” Toweh said.
The three panelists individually presented concerns focusing on how climate policy will be affected in the future and what part people can play in the issue.
Citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Engineering Prof. Richard Rood, who specializes in climate impact, emphasized the topic of climate science including global temperatures, rising sea levels and ocean temperature.
He also underlined that the scientific evidence supporting the theory of climate change was only one of the issues when addressing climate change as a society.
“The social and political aspects are much more difficult than the technological aspects for how to deal with this problem,” Rood said.
Stacy Coyle, a lecturer with the Program in the Environment, cited the Paris Agreement as one social and political response to climate change. The agreement, which was signed on April 22, 2016, is an international pact addressing political and financial strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions.
Coyle emphasized the extensive international participation in the agreement as ratified by 55 countries who represent 55 percent of total global emissions. She also addressed concerns over the possibility and legality of the United States withdrawing from the treaty, another campaign promise of Trump’s.
“The U.S. cannot withdraw until November of 2019,” Coyle said. “It makes me breath just a little easier.”
The Paris Agreement outlines that the signed parties like the United States cannot withdraw from the treaty for another three years, according to Article 28 of the agreement itself. However, under U.S. law, participation in any international treaty can be terminated by the president under U.S. law. Scholars have suggested potential effects of leaving the treaty could range from loss in global standing to potential difficulties for the U.S. on issues such as trade and terrorism in the future.
Sally Churchill, professor of environmental law and policy in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, noted that disassembling environmental regulations would be difficult and unlikely. She emphasized the importance of local action and public recognition and concern for the issue by highlighting a New York Times article about towns in Alaska threatened by climate change.
“As an environmental lawyer, I am very optimistic,” Churchill said. “People care about climate change. I walked into this room on a Tuesday night thinking there might be 15 to 20 people and it’s packed. Climate change is not going away.”
Churchill also said she thought it was important for people to continue to engage with environmental issues across political divisions.
“Climate change is not an issue of party,” Churchill said. “We have to keep finding allies everywhere to advance the important activities and address any disagreements we may have.”
LSA sophomore Melanie Chasseur, who attended the event, said she was initially concerned for the future of environmental policy after the election, but like Churchill, is focusing on the potential for unity around environmental issues.
“Feedback is really important between people that are knowledgeable on the issue and people that aren’t active about it, and we need to integrate people that might not understand,” Chasseur said.
LSA freshman Kristen Hayden said she thought that the discussion was effective in addressing climate change due to the different backgrounds of the panelists.
“I liked that there were so many different viewpoints,” Hayden said. “They had such a different range in experiences, from the professor who worked with NASA to the professor who is an environmental lawyer, and I thought those different interests influenced how they talked about the subject.”