Yesterday, the University joined over 1,550 colleges, schools, businesses and places of worship in hosting “Focus the Nation,” a national environmental teach-in that explores solutions to global climate change. The day was filled with lectures, panels and presentations intended to incite discussion on one of the most pressing issues facing the country.
“This is an important day, not only locally, but throughout the country,” said Deputy Director of the New York City Office of Environmental Coordination Jon Dickinson, keynote speaker. “This is a great example of the necessary action in addressing one of the most critical challenges of our generation.”
The student group Environmental Organizers Network (EON) spearheaded the effort to bring the event to the University, collaborating with various other campus groups to push the community to think about global warming from different angles.
“We wanted to do something that would highlight the multifaceted perspectives and objectives that climate change activism can encompass,” said EON member Sarah Reed ’08.
During the noon keynote address in the Chapel, Dickinson spoke about PlaNYC, a program launched by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that promotes the city’s efforts toward a sustainable future. With one million people projected to move into the city in the next few decades, the municipal government realized the importance of developing a smart growth plan—one that would both allow for a higher quality of life and reduce the city’s global warming emissions by 30 percent.
According to Dickinson, PlaNYC puts New York City at the forefront of major metropolitan green movements.
Dickinson also encouraged students to tackle environmental issues and confront the challenging questions.
“The whole world is looking now,” he said.
One of PlaNYC’s biggest challenges will be funding the various projects. There is currently a $30 billion funding gap for PlaNYC’s transportation initiatives, which include increasing subway access and usage.
“How do we pay for this?” Dickinson asked. “Are we going to pay with higher asthma rates and increased greenhouse gas emissions, or are New York residents going to pay a modest [monetary] price?”
The cost of ignoring global warming was a common theme at “Focus the Nation” events on campus. At the Policy Responses Panel, which was moderated by Professor of Economics and Nobel laureate Gary Yohe, Connecticut State Representative Jim O’Rourke spoke about the benefits that would come with action.
“With the world’s largest economy here in America, we have the most to lose by not getting on this and creating this green energy economy,” O’Rourke said. “We also have the most to gain by doing this, through tremendous opportunities for new jobs.”
Joining O’Rourke on the panel were Connecticut State Senator John Fonfara, University Professor of Government Marc Eisner and Roger Smith ’01 of the Connecticut Climate Coalition. While all the speakers discussed top-down approaches to confronting climate change, many acknowledged that progress also comes from citizens’ collective concern.
“We’re not going to get there by goals, caps and command and control,” O’Rourke said. “It’s time for us to really put our mind where our mouth is and we need to have in this country a World War II-style mobilization.”
In light of the presidential primaries, Yohe urged students to push environmental issues to the front of candidate’s campaigns.
“We need to elevate climate change in the political discourse so that it becomes something that people talk about all the time,” he said.
At the second panel, which focused on corporate and institutional responses to global climate change, John Cusack, president of a management and policy consulting firm specializing in sustainability, and Jen Andrews of Clean Air-Cool Planet, talked about climate change in relation to business and universities.
Other Focus the Nation events on campus included a live webcast of “The 2% Solution,” a slideshow presentation partly featured in “An Inconvenient Truth,” a sustainable dinner at Usdan and a panel on climate change and social justice. The day ended with an environmental circus performed by a Middletown theater troupe.
With high attendance at panels and events, and many in-class discussions on global warming, those involved with planning Focus the Nation were pleased with the day.
“What it comes down to is conversations happening in the classroom and conversations in the dining hall,” said EON member Julien Burns ’10. “That was the real goal, to get people thinking and talking about [global climate change]. The real measure of the day’s success will be whether these conversations carry on throughout the week and the rest of the semester.”