UNshaken discussion talks global climate

Thursday, March 29, 2018 - 8:30pm

On Thursday, University of Michigan students and climate science experts gathered to participate in UNshaken, a discussion of the recent United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany. The students and climate experts who partook in the symposium emphasized the importance of subnational action against climate change in the United States, especially under the Trump administration.

UNshaken was put on by Climate Blue, the University’s delegation to UN climate negotiations. Despite the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the expert panelists’ tone remained hopeful as they discussed ways community, philanthropic and corporate efforts can make a positive impact on the climate.

Samantha Basile, the director of Climate Blue and a third-year graduate student in the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering Department, said the University delegation was met positively at the Bonn talks. The hopeful tones expressed in Germany carried over into Thursday’s symposium.

“I did both hear and express feelings of disappointment and sadness for the lack of U.S. federal leadership, but I saw other delegates were definitely interested in the subnational U.S. actors and the U.S. Climate Action Center,” Basile wrote to The Daily in an email. “There was a sense of hope that the world was moving forward and that U.S. subnational actors could still play a part in helping achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

The expert panel consisted of leaders in the field of climate science. Among them were Alicia Douglas, CEO of Water Rising Institute, J.C. Kibbey, Midwest outreach and policy advocate for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Nathan Geisler, an energy analyst for the City of Ann Arbor, Noah Deich, co-founder of the Center for Carbon Removal, and Trish Koman, a research investigator at the Environmental Health Sciences Department.

When asked about his reaction to the U.S. pulling out of the Paris agreement, Geisler pointed to the fact that cities like Ann Arbor are continuing to make progress toward policy change independent of the federal government.

“I have the realization that this will mobilize people here pretty quickly,” Geisler said. “We have doubled down and we have been making local progress.”

Deich echoed this sentiment, describing the impact non-governmental organizations in the U.S. are capable of making.

“I don’t think the U.S. signaling they are going to pull out sometime in the future is a big headwind in the conversation,” he said. “The world recognizes that the U.S. will continue to be a big leader if not at the federal level, at a private, local, and philanthropic one.”

Deich's organization, the Center for Carbon Removal, was founded about two years ago and drives innovation to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Our role is to bring people together,” Deich said. “Not many people out there understand the emissions gap.”

Still, significant challenges have emerged as a result of the current administration's position on climate change. Alicia Douglas, the CEO of Water Rising Institute, explained the challenges conservation organizations have faced in recent months.

“Since the administration has pulled out, our colleagues have had to fight for all the funding,” she said. “Private, public and philanthropic sources have come together to make some restoration possible.”

J.C. Kibbey, the Midwest outreach and policy advocate for the Union of Concerned Scientists, describes his personal reaction to the U.S. withdrawal, noting that progress does still remain possible.

“On a personal level it was really disheartening,” Kibbey said referring to the Paris Accords' goal of limiting global warming. “We are already at a place where 2 degrees feels ambitious. There are reasons to be encouraged about subnational action. It’s particularly encouraging in Michigan considering the Republican leadership.”

Attendees consisted of community members and University students interested in environmental action and global affairs. LSA senior Graham Bevier studies conservation biology and said he came to the symposium to learn more about global environmental policy.

“As I'm about to graduate, I am interested in what's happening on an international level,” Bevier said.