Students should ‘Focus’ on climate change

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference last month in Bali, Papua, New Guinea delegate Kevin Conrad made the following plea to the United States: “We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.” Criticism of the U.S.’s policy (or lack thereof) on climate change was not surprising, but what is surprising are the halls from which this criticism is now echoing. “The shift in the public’s awareness of climate change should be reflected in United States leadership,” was heard from media mogul Rupert Murdoch, CEO and chairman of News Corp, which owns Fox News. Indeed until very recently Murdoch was a climate change skeptic. Now, he has since taken action to make his global media empire climate-neutral. Conrad and Murdoch, like many of the people concerned with climate change come from vastly different backgrounds, with vastly different interests at stake.

A former CIA director advocates fighting the war on terror through the use of alternative energy sources. An evangelical minister asks his parishioners, and the Christian community, “What would Jesus drive?” A Native American tribe plans a wind farm on their reservation, and citizens in the heart of oil-rich Texas have decided to make their city climate-neutral. These are the people who are stepping out of the mold, who realize that climate change is threatening our way of life and who recognize that they are in a position to do something about it.

In the past few years, incredible strides have been made in increasing the public’s awareness of climate change. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was an important sign that the world community recognizes the gravity of this issue. The world has come to realize that climate change is a part of our future. Recent IPCC reports projected an average warming of anywhere from 2 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. Even the lower end of this spectrum will mean dramatic shifts in habitat, agriculture and freshwater supply in developing countries. But if the upper end of this spectrum is reached, as in the “business-as-usual” scenario, the sea-level rise from melting ice sheets alone could be catastrophic. Which scenario we face in the next century, depends on how people act today.

In recognition of the pivotal role that politics and this year’s presidential election play in the future of climate change, January 31 has been designated as “Focus the Nation,” a nationwide teach-in. Students and faculty from over 1000 institutions around the U.S. are coming together to organize events that will “focus” the nation’s attention on this critical issue. “Focus the Nation” is deliberately timed to coincide with the presidential primary season, as politicians and the media all too often overlook climate change. Elevating this issue now is more important than ever, because strong political leadership from the United States in local and global climate change solutions is much overdue. This country is ready for action.

“Focus the Nation” is not an endorsement of any particular candidate, but a plea to the Yale community and thousands of other communities across the country to join in this national day of awareness and to help find climate-change solutions. In the midst of the presidential primaries, it is time to focus on the candidates’ positions on climate-change solutions.

But change does nowt begin or end in the voting booth. “Focus the Nation” is also a chance for students, as they start planning their futures, to consider how their field can help find climate change solutions. Climate change and other 21st-century environmental struggles are not for one group alone — there is an overwhelming need for action in all fields. Today’s students — tomorrow’s political, business, scientific, artistic and N.G.O. leaders — can contribute to the health of our planet in many ways. There is a necessary and important role for everyone.

Please join our panel “Working for a Sustainable Future,” a discussion with a politician, a pastor, a journalist, a scientist and an artist who are all thinking about climate change and taking action in their fields.

The event will be Thursday, Jan. 31 at 3:00 p.m. in LC 102. As a student at Yale, and in whatever career you choose, you can work for climate-change solutions.

Andrew Delman ’09, Valerie Gordon ’09 and Felicia Resor ’09 are co-chairs of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition.

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