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Speakers stressed advocacy to turn the tide against climate change at panel Thursday


Panel members met to discuss climate change on Thursday evening in the Whittenberger Auditorium. Jeffrey White, second from the left and a professor and researcher of climate change, was the first to speak.  Mallory Smith Buy Photos

Speakers in a panel at the Whittenberger Auditorium on Thursday night asked the question, “What must be done to solve climate change?”

Their answer: politics.             

Jeff White, School of Public and Environmental Affairs climate scientist and panelist, said scientists are not enough to create change. Instead, they have to connect with the public and the political system.

“I kept my head down for years, and then we had the election, and I realized that it was not enough,” he said. “Just doing good science is not enough.”

Bill Brown, IU director of sustainability and panelist, said the students reflect the future of the country’s approach to sustainability issues. As a result, he encourages them to stay informed and get involved.

When he was an undergraduate student, Brown said he advocated for bringing sustainable design into university architecture curriculum by forming a group that reached out to universities. He said he hopes students now will also tackle sustainability issues that are important to them.

“If students can take the ball and run with it, we can make substantive change,” he said.

Brown said IU is working with students and the City of Bloomington to start a campus farm, build a bike share program and bring solar power to Bloomington.

He said he has also seen students across the nation participating in mass demonstrations in support of policies to address climate change.

But in his 22 years working in sustainability, he has never been to a mass demonstration. He said he would rather work quietly and within the system.

“There’s more than one way to get things done,” he said. “There’s the quiet path and the confrontational path, but both of the things can get things done.”

Kenneth Richards, environmental engineer, economist and panelist, said he is not involved in activism. Instead, he advocates for sustainability policies, such as carbon taxes, because they are good for the economy.

He said looking at policy from that perspective, rather than one of an activism, allows him to appear unbiased and connect with policymakers.

“Something I grieve is the inability to compromise and lack of pragmatism, so I’m unsure if the political route is the best route,” he said.

While White said he understands Richards’ desire to distance himself from political activism in order to maintain credibility in his field, he sees activism differently.

“I am very comfortable separating myself as an activist and as a researcher,” he said. “My activism does not affect my science, and I don’t see a conflict there.”

Instead of working within the government, Richards said working with non-governmental organizations to take up the reins in reducing carbon emissions would be best.

White said he sees the merit of non-governmental organizations, but he said citizens cannot give up on encouraging the government to make policy changes through activism.

“We have to continue the conversation and convince policymakers that it is good science and good facts that should back up policy,” White said. “I think it’s not getting through to a lot of people right now, but we don’t give up.” 

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