Climate symposium addresses local and international policies in climate change

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 8:31pm

Natural Resources and Environment Professor Daniel Brown talks about the future of international climate policies in North Quad on Wednesday.

Natural Resources and Environment Professor Daniel Brown talks about the future of international climate policies in North Quad on Wednesday. Buy this photo
Arnold Zhou/Daily

About 70 people gathered Wednesday night in North Quad Residence Hall for the 2017 Climate Blue Spring Symposium, titled "With or Without US?" The symposium included a presentation of students' findings from the 22nd Conference of Parties, hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakech, Morocco, as well as an expert panel of environmental scientists and policymakers.

Climate Blue is a group comprising University students and faculty, businesspeople, non-governmental professionals and public servants representing the University’s delegation to the Conference of Parties.

Acknowledging the Trump administration's failure to address climate change, many speakers at the event stressed the importance of strengthening local, state and international policy.

Ed Waisanen, a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, took part in this year's delegation, and pointed out that though the United States is an important actor in the fight against climate change, it is not the only one.

"Climate resilience has really become a part of international development efforts," he said. "Even if the U.S. isn't interested in that, it'll still continue to be the case internationally."

Public Policy senior Connor Rubin, a member of the delegation and a moderator for the event, said in addition to being a regional issue, climate change also cuts along generational lines. The Divest and Invest Campaign, which encourages cutting business ties with organizations that are heavy polluters, is one place he said this was apparent in. In 2015, Central Student Government and senate faculty passed resolutions encouraging the University to divest from fossil fuels.

"The divest movement is alive and well in the United States," he said. "It certainly got a lot of attention at COP, but a lot less from older generations."

Following the delegates' presentation, the panel of environmental scientists and policymakers discussed the future of climate policy on the state and local levels. State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) considered the issue of being a Democratic politician in a majority-Republican state, saying that compromise was possible and necessary.

"Two months ago, I went to the Sportsmen's Caucus meeting," he said. "These are men and women who enjoy hunting and fishing; I've never touched a gun. I wanted to reach out to this group of people to understand what their top issues were, and even though we disagreed on some very fundamental issues, I found that there were a lot of issues we agreed on. They are strong conservationists. They want biodiversity because they want to hunt that biodiversity; I want it because I think it's inherently right. So while we might have slightly different end goals, we essentially want the same thing."

Several members of the panel expressed the sentiment that states and cities would now pick up the slack left by the federal government on climate change. Missy Stults, a research fellow at the Graham Sustainability Institute, pointed out, however, that the absence of the federal government makes lower jurisdictions’ responsibilities more difficult to carry out.

"Cities have been leaders in climate action in our nation, long before Obama took office," she said. "We know that's true, in large part because the effects of climate change are felt mostly at the local level. Regardless if you're a Republican or Democrat, a disaster is a disaster. That said, after the election we took a little step back –– there is no federal money for climate programs anymore."

Mark Barteau, the director of the University Energy Institute, said that while there are ways that smaller locales could lead on climate change, they are often held back by larger institutions.

"You promise not to tweet this?" he said to laughter from the audience. "I have the dubious honor of holding the DTE energy chair. We are reliant on DTE. Their energy supply is generated 75 percent from coal. Ann Arbor has similar issues. What's limiting both of them is the limitation of energy choice in state legislation. As they replace coal plants, our carbon footprint will go down, because our purchased electricity will go down. But we can't cut that because of state law."

In his closing remarks, Rabhi emphasized the importance of coalition building in fighting climate change, saying the economic issues raised by addressing climate change can't be ignored.

"I don't think we will be able to make meaningful progress until we find work for coal miners in West Virginia, autoworkers in Detroit," he said. "We can't make progress if we don't get out and support those workers. And that's not only providing them an economic future, but being there for them when they need us, and letting them know that the environmental community is with them."