When it comes to combating climate change, there is no time to waste.
But the work cannot be done by just one country, officials at University of Colorado Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano’s annual summit noted. It requires a global effort to reduce carbon emissions and slow the planet’s rising temperature.
“The only way we get this done is together,” said Matthew Burgess, assistant professor of environmental studies at CU Boulder. “We need a society-wide transition sustained over decades.”
Burgess and other CU Boulder staff spoke Wednesday night during the summit, which centered on climate change and the role the university can play in addressing the global issue.
About 200 alumni, staff and students attended this year’s summit, which returned after a year off in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This December, CU Boulder will host an inaugural Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit, which will bring international leaders together in Boulder to address climate change as a human rights crisis, DiStefano said Thursday night.
“We know that climate change is not just a challenge for the scientists to solve, and the solutions we see won’t be purely technical,” he said. “The answers will come when all of us join together, combining our intellect, our energy and our unique perspectives in one shared commitment to addressing climate change.”
Since he first began his campaign, Gov. Jared Polis has talked about powering Colorado on 100% renewable energies by 2040. That goal is still on track, he said.
The state’s electrical grid will be about 80% renewable by 2030, Polis said Wednesday night. The Legislature is now reviewing the governor’s budget, which proposes spending about $500 million to improve air quality and which recommends using $150 million to purchase electric school buses for all Colorado schools.
Burgess spoke Wednesday night about the division in America, which is holding the country back from addressing climate change.
“This isn’t a winning culture,” he said. “This isn’t a culture that’s up to the challenges that we face. The social science is very clear that high levels of social trust and social solidarity are key to effective governance and are also key to making policies that reduce inequality politically feasible.”
For example, the major depression rate among teen and young adult girls doubled about a decade ago and has increased by 50% since then, he said. Additionally, a survey completed three years ago asked American partisans if they felt the U.S. would be better off if large numbers of the opposing party died. The results showed that 16% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats said yes.
Clint Carroll, a CU Boulder associate professor of ethnic studies and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, led off his speech Wednesday night by reading a poem by John Trudell, a Native American author.
That same poem was shared by Trudell when the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was ratified, Carroll said.
“It’s far from a perfect mechanism, but it represents many hard fought battles and serves to reframe the conversation around human rights in generative ways,” he said.
Caring for the earth is not a right but a responsibility, Carroll said.
Treaties signed by indigenous people give them the right to hunt, fish or live on the land that is theirs. At the same time, it also grants them the responsibility of caring for that land and the others who call it home, he said.
CU Boulder’s Tribal Climate Leaders Program is an effort that already exists on campus to teach indigenous peoples about Native American cultures and values. The program not only contributes to the university’s mission of diversity and inclusion but in turn helps students become experts in combating climate change through indigenous practices, Carroll said.
“Programs like this build pathways for trans-local solidarity — for the cultivation of local and regional identities and the allegiances to ecosystems and communities,” he said.
But the fellows in the program may be the first and last cohort because funding for the program has not been renewed.
“If you’re looking for ways the public university can continue to fulfill its mission, specifically by empowering the next generation of indigenous leaders and scientists, it’s right here,” Carroll said.
James White, CU Boulder professor of geological sciences and environmental studies, left the crowd with a few takeaways or behavioral changes people need to make in order to live sustainably.
White said the primary species on the planet, humans, loves to break Earth’s rules. Because of that, more rule followers are needed.
“It’s going to be up to the rule followers to convince the rule breakers that we need to live sustainably on the planet,” he said.
He said during climate change speeches he commonly asks people, “Do you love your children?”
“Climate change is always a slow process,” he said. “It’s always one generation screwed up the atmosphere. The next generation has got to deal.”
In addition to children, there are billions of people who can’t really transition away from fossil fuels to electricity because their everyday lives are consumed by trying to find enough food and water to survive.
He said the entire world shares one atmosphere. It doesn’t matter who emits the most carbon dioxide, it affects everyone. Therefore, it is up to the world to step up and and make changes for the younger generations or for the people who don’t have the means to help.
“There’s a lot that goes into this a lot to unpack but in the end, it’s about social justice,” White said.
The last change entails population control, White said.
When the roles are switched and women are handed the power to govern, they have fewer children or have them later in life.
“Both of those things lead naturally to a stable population,” he said. “To me, those are truly the keys to sustainability, and the keys to dealing with climate change.”