Executive Assembly – Climate Change

The second issue we tackled at the Executive Assembly was climate change.  The format for each session was to have a presentation that provided an overview of the issue and this was followed by two presentations that “drilled down” to specific areas within the issue.

Professor David Dana from the Northwester Law School provided an overview of the issue of climate change (his slides can be found on UPCEA Connect).  He reminded us that climate change is not a state or nation problem, it is a global issue, and thus requires a global response.  One of the major concerns when looking at climate change is the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.  This increase comes from multiple sources such as surface transport and coal burning plants.  In the US we have tended to deal with this issue through individual and corporate voluntary action, soft law (aspirational regulation), command and control (regulations-most environmental law), taxes, and cap and trade.  While all of these approaches can be beneficial, using command and control, taxes, and cap and trade have the greatest potential in dealing with the issue.  However, there are challenges in implementing any of these approaches; for example, if we were to implement cap and trade, how do you determine usage, do we use past usage, do we use potential usage? Any answer we choose provides incentives or disincentives for companies.   It is not clear how the legislation will end up.

Dr. Nancy Tuchman, Vice Provost and Professor Biology at Loyola of Chicago, reminded us of the importance of taking a systems-level approach in addressing climate change.    Her slides can also be found on UPCEA Connect.  The three major factors related to climate change are: 1) increasing global population densities; 2) increasing standard of living; and 3) the fossil fuel economy.   She graphically displayed that if the world’s population continues to grow at its current rate and if “everyone lived like us” in the US, we would need 5.3 Earths to sustain the world population.  Therefore we need to act now regarding our ecological footprint.  The impact of ecological stress on the Earth can be seen in increased storm events, droughts and floods, wildfires, loss of biodiversity, increases in infectious diseases, and the result is a disproportional impact on the poor.  Nancy suggested we need to take a systems-level approach that would be a top-down/bottom-up approach.  The top-down approach would be developing a new clean energy economy that included using smart energy technology, setting CO2 regulations, and establishing incentives to reduce dirty energy.  The bottom-up approach is developing a conservative ethic where we as individuals, our units, and our university/college become a responsible consumer, a responsible steward of the national resources, and a trustee of future generations.

Our final speaker, Dr. Laurie Zoloth of Northwestern University, used the time-tested approach of storytelling in calling us to action related to climate change.  What follows is the beginning of the story, and the complete story can be found at UPCEA connect:

“The world is an optimistic one, and we imagine ourselves as more powerful than ever before……we have new technology that has enabled us to travel to all parts of the globe…..we have a sophisticated new economic system…..creativity is expressed in art, architecture, and poetry as well as essays.  We are a rich world, we in the West….Yet into this world has come a great interruptive tragedy-the very ground of our security is threatened, and thousands of lives are at stake, and it may be that the tragedy we are suddenly faced with is in part caused or at lease potentiated by the very way we live.  Nature, the very earth, some argue, rebels against our sinful ways….It is hot, flat, and crowded, humanity may be at an end.  We face a catastrophe beyond telling.”

Laurie then asked us, “what year is it?” It was November 1, 1755, the date of the Lisbon earthquake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1755_Lisbon_earthquake). She used this story to remind us that we, like Lisbon, have grown comfortable and if we do not act we too may, will most certainly face, a similar fate.

Our speakers on climate change provided a call to action on multiple levels.  First, we as individuals must act and modify our behavior whether by car pooling, using mass transit, recycling and more. Second, we can act as units of professional and continuing education by demonstrating leadership on our campuses through the development of programming for a new green economy, establishing green purchasing habits, as well as establishing green procedures for recycling, printing, etc.  Third, and finally, we are called as an Association to be a leader in this area by modeling sustainable behaviors such as moving from paper to digital products as well as exploring alternative networking opportunities in addition or other than our face to face meetings.

Our theme for our national meeting is “Doing What Matters” and our call to become better stewards of our natural environment is an imperative first step in doing what matters.

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