Climate change finally has the attention of the American public, but mainly as a generalized warning. To sharpen the focus, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College convened a conference on March 5 and 6, 2015 on Climate Injustice: Are There Solutions? Speakers were invited to explore the costs of climate change, strategies to strengthen human security and forms of response, by government and other sectors. This Roosevelt House MagaScene – a selection of video clips and quotes – presents highlights and key moments of the two-day conference.
There could hardly be a more appropriate place to discuss urgent environmental concerns than at Roosevelt House. The very name “Roosevelt” reverberates with concepts like conservation and good stewardship. As Teddy Roosevelt once wrote,”It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird…But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.”
Keynote – Rhea Suh, President, Natural Resources Defense Council: “Life on the front lines of climate change.”
Opening Statement and Moderator: William Solecki, Professor, Department of Geography, Hunter College and outgoing Director of CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities
Panelists: Steven Koonin, Director, Center for Urban Science and Progress, New York University; Peter Marcotullio, Professor, Department of Geography, Hunter College and incoming Director of CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; Kate O’Neill, Associate Professor, Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley
William Solecki, Hunter professor and conference co-organizer, described the current moment as a turning point in our understanding of climate change. For Solecki, we are starting to develop an understanding about what climate change is, as a material thing, but also, more profoundly, what it represents for our future. Solecki asserts that climate change is not just a local issue; but it must be confronted on an international scale.
Solecki then introduced the opening panel, which began with a presentation by Steven Koonin, former Undersecretary of Energy for Science, former provost of Caltech and now director of NYU’s Urban Science Center.
Steven Koonin, Director, Center for Urban Science & Progress, New York University – “Climate science is not settled.”
Peter Marcotullio, Professor of Geography and Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, described the relationship between dense settlement and climate change, as well effects of rapid urbanization, especially in Asia and Africa. In some ways, cities are sources of emissions – yet are much less so than diffuse populations. Marcotullio believes that the increased density, urban efficiencies and public education will slow emissions.
Kate O’Neill, Berkeley professor and political scientist, applauded broadening climate activism since 2000. O’Neill called out climate experts for becoming so cloistered, and called attention to geo-engineering initiatives.
Moderator: Justin Gillis, Environmental Science Writer, The New York Times
Panelists: Bipasha Chatterjee, Environmental Economist, Hunter College; Stephen Hammer, Lead Specialist-Cities and Climate Change Global Programs Team, World Bank; John Kadyszewski, Senior Director, Thought Leadership Engagement and Director, American Carbon Registry, Winrock International; Stephen Kass, Senior Environmental Counsel Co-Director, Environmental Practice Group, Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP.
Justin Gillis, Environmental Science Writer, The New York Times, introduced the panel on the start of Day 2.
Stephen Hammer, Lead Specialist-Cities and Climate Change Global Programs Team, World Bank.
Environment economist Bipasha Chatterjee asked, “How can clean development be supported in less-developed countries?” She outlined a number of Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) that allow developing countries to sell emissions permits to developed countries. Between 2004 and 2012, 15 countries received $315 billion and accounted for a 14 percent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels. But most of the funding went to India and China, not where it was needed most like Africa and small island states. The new CDM cycle includes correctives.
John Kadyszewski, an expert from Winrock International, reported on how California’s Air Resources Board have improved on the idea by creating a strictly regulated market that has so far raised $1 billion, a quarter of which is going to disadvantaged communities. How to identify them? By measuring pollution concentration, drinking water contaminants, low birth weight and traffic volume. We need much better data collection for reliable metrics.
Stephen Kass, Senior Environmental Counsel Co-Director, Environmental Practice Group, Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP.
Moderator: Deborah Balk, Professor, Baruch College School of Public Affairs and Associate Director, CUNY Institute for Demographic Research
Panelists: Collin Beck, Permanent Representative of Solomon Islands to the United Nations; Udo Janz, Director, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office in New York; Nevin Cohen, Associate Professor, CUNY School of Public Health; Frederica Perera, Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University and Director, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health.
Deborah Balk, Professor, Baruch College School of Public Affairs and Associate Director, CUNY Institute for Demographic Research introduced her panel, covering environmental refugees, lost jobs, impact on women and food security. Balk observed that the world is getting hotter, cities are getting older, and sea levels are rising, and asked, “What happens to citizens of countries that disappear into the sea?”
Udo Janz, Director, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office in New York.
Collin Beck, Permanent Representative of Solomon Islands to the United Nations.
According to Frederica Perera, Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University and Director, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, the burden of climate change falls most heavily on mothers and children. This is due to greater absorption and retention of toxics via mother’s exposure during pregnancy or in childhood.
Food security is an important dimension of climate change, says Nevin Cohen, Associate Professor, CUNY School of Public Health. It is already causing drought, stunted agriculture and famine and such effects will weigh most heavily on poor people in poor countries.
Dale Jamieson, Professor of Environmental Studies, Philosophy and Affiliated Professor of Law, New York University, author of the book “Reason in a Dark Time.”
Moderator: Rebecca Bratspies, Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law
Panelists: Amir Jina, Post-Doctoral Scholar in Economics, University of Chicago; Adam Parris, Executive Director, Science and Resilience Center at Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn College, CUNY; Anhthu Hoang, Attorney, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2.
Rebecca Bratspies, CUNY law professor, introduced her panel. She asked “what tools do we have at our disposal, what forces do we have as human society and our institutions to deploy?”
Amir Jina, Post-Doctoral Scholar in Economics, University of Chicago.
Adam Parris reviewed rising sea levels, arguing that quality data is available but may not be used effectively for adaptation-oriented decision-making. This could be because of sensitivity about linking policy and science in ways that create legal complications.
Anhthu Hoang described the EPA’s response to Superstorm Sandy in Long Island. The harm included coastal destruction, housing destruction, and pollutants in debris. There is also the danger that communities will build back exactly as they were. Hoang suggests rebuilding with an emphasis on resilience.
Moderator: Owen Gutfreund, Associate Professor, Urban Affairs and Planning, Hunter College.
Panelists: Rohit Aggarwala, Principal, Bloomberg Associates; Phil Aroneanu, Co-Founder and U.S. Managing Director, 350.org; Nicholas Shufro, Director, R!SE and Sustainable Business Solutions, PricewaterhouseCoopers; Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director, UPROSE.
Owen Gutfreund, Hunter College Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, introduced his panel. Gutfreund asked, “If we have diffuse solutions, can we have effective results?”
Rohit Aggarwala, Principal, Bloomberg Associates.
Phil Aroneanu. Co-founder of the activist organization 350.org, recalled the massive day of action last September when 400,000 people marched in New York – along with thousands more in 162 countries. Aroneanu stated that fossil fuel companies have the backing of many political leaders, and what’s needed is for ”policy makers, academics, community and immigrant activists to form a coalition, with action at every level, and with public support to see policies change.”
Nicholas Shufro, Director, R!SE and Sustainable Business Solutions, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director, UPROSE.
Jack Rosenthal, Interim Director, The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.
Epilogue: A closing quote from Dale Jamieson:
“Rather than a problem, climate change will increasingly present as an array of challenges that we will have to manage and live with as best we can, and hope that the darkest scenarios do not come to pass . . . [T]here is no magic bullet solution. John Wayne is dead, and there is no Colt 45 peacemaker in sight. What remains is the human spirit and its enduring quest to survive and flourish on a changing planet.”