Wesleyan may be one of the most environmentally conscious campuses in the country, but this weekend’s Pricing Carbon Symposium aims to bring this environmentalism to a whole new level. With 40 renowned and diverse speakers and a schedule packed with various panels and workshops, the conference seeks to make a national—even international—impact on global climate change policy.
The term “Pricing Carbon” refers to literally putting a cost on carbon emissions in the United States in the form of a tax. The conference is based around developing this strategy as a way to potentially decrease the country’s contribution to rising greenhouse gas levels and climate change.
According to their website, the conference’s organizers, Charles Komanoff and Tom Stokes, believe that this would be the “quickest and most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” It also could “create incentives for renewable energy and efficiency, and generate green jobs.”
Professor of Economics Gary Yohe notes that there has been an ongoing debate on whether this taxation strategy would be effective in this country.
“The conference will reopen the conversation about pricing carbon,” said Yohe, who is a world-renown climate change expert.
A few other similar models for reducing the country’s role in climate change will also be discussed, such as the cap and trade policy, which would provide economic incentives for reducing emissions.
“The question is how to price carbon,” said Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies and Director of the College of the Environment, Barry Chernoff. “This conference will bring together different points of view on how pricing should be set. There will be a huge representation of public university, governmental, and international people to discuss these issues.”
These perspectives will come from an impressive list of speakers, including University students, and a group of 100 members from Boston’s Students for a Just and Stable Future, as well as the prolific author Bill McKibben of Middlebury College, James Hansen, a climate scientist from Columbia University, several religious leaders, four U.S. Congress members, including Republican Representative Bob Inglis, and many more.
Another important dimension to the conference is how it will affect Wesleyan as a university, as it relates to the new College of the Environment (COE).
“In addition to one of the co-organizers, Tom Stokes, being a Wesleyan alum and Gary Yohe’s presence here, one of the reasons for the conference being held at Wesleyan is the new formation of the College of the Environment,” Chernoff said. “It has been receiving a lot of attention [recently]. This will be a great event for the COE. This is the type of public outreach we hope will have an impact on a national and international scale.”
Yohe believes the Symposium will “add recognition to both the COE and Wesleyan” by reading a broader community.
“My hope is that the participants leave having agreed to a statement of principles with Wesleyan’s name on it,” Yohe said. “This could increase the university’s leadership role internationally.”
Although this may seem like a pretty lofty and overly ambitious goal, the conference will play a key role in establishing an effective policy and changing popular sentiment in the U.S. towards combating climate change.
“We aim to show Americans that a national carbon tax with the revenues returned equally to U.S. households via ‘green checks’ can arrest the climate crisis while enhancing most families’ financial well-being,” Komanoff and Stokes wrote on their website.
The conference organizers and University professors all emphasize that University students have an important role to play.
“When we first started talking to the people at the Carbon Tax Center we all agreed that we wanted to do it so Wesleyan students could be free and involved in social gatherings, as well as interact with these people,” Chernoff said. “We are really seeing students as the future of the world. This conference is about current leaders and future leaders.”
Students who plan on attending the conference couldn’t agree more.
“Our interest as Wesleyan students is key as we are the future of carbon reduction,” said Ben Purinton ’13. “The conference will undoubtedly make us think harder about what we can do to reduce carbon emission in our own lives and how we may get involved in ending global climate change. Wesleyan is an environmentally conscious community and the PCS embodies our attitude.”
Opportunities like this will give Wesleyan students a chance to confront such environmental issues and bring them into a more realistic scope as they begin to brainstorm possible solutions.
“I think we’re incredibly lucky to have something like this going on our campus, because it’s also opening dialogue amongst students,” said Grace Kuipers ’14. “It’s a really important step towards finding solutions. It’s great to learn about different methods of dealing with climate change as concepts in a course, but when you actually interact with huge events and decisions like this it gives you reason to really get excited.”
All attendees can participate in workshops where they will discuss climate change with people in the forefront of the field. The conference also offers students a great opportunity for networking.
“You will be working with, and even be eating meals with, the best in this field,” Chernoff said. “Plus, there’s a party at eight o’clock in Beckham Hall, so, hey, why not ask James Hansen for a dance?”
As the conference directors put it, the symposium is a pivotal event for Wesleyan and the country as a whole.
“Every successful revolution — in policy as well as politics — has begun with a small band of people who nurtured a new idea that went against the grain,” Komanoff and Stokes wrote on the conference website. “A carbon tax that transparently and unmistakably builds the costs of climate damage into the price of fossil fuels is no different. This is our moment, and the Wesleyan ‘Pricing Carbon’ conference is our vehicle for seizing it.”
For more information about this weekend’s conference and participant registration, go to www.pricingcarbon.org.