A Day of Reflections On Climate Change

This article was written by Sarah Rhee, Communications Associate at the Office of Sustainability.

Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) addresses the crowd. Photo by Sid Hastings / Washington University

On Saturday, September 29, 2018,  Washington University in St. Louis hosted “A Day of Reflections on Climate Change”, an afternoon workshop that brought together industry professionals such as:  Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Jeff Seale, Agricultural Environmental Strategy Lead and Associate Science Fellow at Bayer Crop Science. Additionally, alumni, staff, current students and the St. Louis community at-large were invited to engage in a constructive dialogue with all the panelists. The emphasis on “reflection” paved the way for a positive outlook on a subject matter than can easily become bleak.

This public event included two panel discussions, the first of which showcased four Washington University alumni: John Delurey, Rachel Westrate, Taylor Blevin, and Ingrid Archibald.  The alums were chosen because of their personal experiences from attending and observing the international negotiations at the Conference of the Parties (COP), while they were Washington University students. Rachel Westrate thoughtfully stated that climate change was not a problem that fit into one category. “It is not an economic problem, a health problem, or a political problem. Climate change is its own problem, the greatest problem.”

The tone of the panel emphasized the multiple ways that climate change can be addressed. It drove the idea that climate change is not an obstacle that any single individual can solve. Instead, it is a global issue that critically needs an interdisciplinary approach from all sectors and backgrounds. The panel discussed how this means working with local communities and connecting with the local people. These small efforts will bring about local, regional, and international change, and it is crucial to stay optimistic.

Michael Brune said that working with local communities to fight climate change is an opportunity, as much as it is an obligation. “It is not only something we’ve got to do, it’s something we get to do.” His message emphasized the necessary – people cannot simply sit around and complain about all the negative data that is recorded on climate change, individuals need to get out there and do something about it.

WashU student Hannah Schanzer asks the panel a question. Photo by Sid Hastings / Washington University

But because of the sometimes-hopeless nature of the issue, John Delurey mentioned one major phenomenon he noticed. At the beginning of the school year, a lot of students start off with passionate and creative new ideas to bring to the table. Too often, however, their passion to drive the ideas begins to fade away. This is where academia comes into the picture. A significant role of scholarship is to not only serve as the interdisciplinary element in student efforts to go about change in a forward direction, but also to help build the courage and passion to go out and face the challenges that come with environmentalism.

As Christina Figueres noted, we need the courage to admit that we do not have the answers and to understand the challenges of this global problem. Instead, it is important to focus on the changes that we can make now, either big or small.

The workshop was organized by the International Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (InCEES), an institutional hub for collaborative efforts and interdisciplinary initiatives at Washington University.

“A goal of InCEES is to address a range of interconnected energy and environmental challenges that are critical to the well-being of society and the planet,” said Himadri Pakrasi, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor and Director of InCEES. “For this event, we wanted to bring together environmental leaders in policy, advocacy and industry to have an informative and open discussion about climate change. We welcomed each speaker’s diverse point of view because in order to have a cleaner, greener world, there needs to be collaborative effort on all three of these fronts. Washington University is exactly the place where we should be having these discussions.”

To view more photos from “A Day of Reflections on Climate Change,” click here.

Following the workshop, InCEES honored the accomplishments of six Washington University alumni for their leadership in the fields of energy, environment and sustainability at the Greensfelder Forum Awards and Dinner at the Saint Louis Zoo. To learn more about the honorees, click here.