CU Boulder officials push for teamwork to tackle climate change at annual Chancellor’s Summit
When it comes to tackling climate change, there is no time to lose.
But the job can’t be done by one country, officials at Chancellor Phil DiStefano’s annual summit at the University of Colorado at Boulder noted. This requires a global effort to reduce carbon emissions and slow the planet’s temperature rise.
“The only way to do this 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 at the summit, which focused on climate change and the role the university can play in solving the global problem.
About 200 alumni, staff and students attended this year’s summit, which returned after a sabbatical in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In December, CU Boulder will host an inaugural Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit, which will bring international leaders to Boulder to address climate change as a human rights crisis, DiStefano said Thursday evening.
“We know that climate change is not just a challenge for scientists to solve, and the solutions we see will not be purely technical,” he said. “The answers will come when we all come together, combining our unique intellect, energy and perspectives in a common commitment to fight climate change.”
Since he started his campaign, Gov. Jared Polis has talked about powering Colorado with 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. That goal is still on track, he said.
The state’s electric grid will be about 80% renewable by 2030, Polis said Wednesday night. The legislature is currently reviewing the governor’s budget, which proposes spending about $500 million to improve air quality and recommends using $150 million to purchase electric school buses for all schools in Colorado.
Burgess spoke on Wednesday night about the division in America that is holding the country back from tackling climate change.
“It’s not a winning culture,” he said. “It’s not a culture up to the challenges we face. Social science is very clear that high levels of social trust and social solidarity are essential for effective governance and are also essential for making policies that reduce inequality politically feasible.
For example, the rate of major depression among teenage girls and young adult girls doubled about a decade ago and has risen 50% since then, he said. Additionally, a survey three years ago asked American supporters whether they thought the United States would be better off if large numbers of the opposing side died. The results showed 16% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats said yes.
Clint Carroll, an associate professor of ethnic studies at CU Boulder and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, began his speech Wednesday night by reading a poem by John Trudell, a Native American author.
This 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 uphill battles and serves to reframe the conversation around human rights in a generative way,” he said.
Caring for the earth is not a right but a responsibility, Carroll said.
Treaties signed by Indigenous peoples give them the right to hunt, fish or live on the land that belongs to them. At the same time, it also gives them the responsibility to care for this land and others who inhabit it, he said.
CU Boulder’s Tribal Climate Leaders program is an effort that already exists on campus to teach Indigenous people about Native American cultures and values. The program not only contributes to the university’s diversity and inclusion mission, but in turn helps students become experts in addressing climate change through Indigenous practices, Carroll said.
“Programs like this open avenues for trans-local solidarity – for the cultivation of local and regional identities and allegiances to ecosystems and communities,” he said.
But the program’s fellows may be the first and last cohort because the program’s funding has not been renewed.
“If you’re looking for ways the public university can continue to fulfill its mission, especially by empowering the next generation of Indigenous leaders and scientists, it’s here,” Carroll said.
James White, professor of geological sciences and environmental studies at CU Boulder, left the crowd with some takeaways or behavioral changes people need to make to live sustainably.
White said the main species on the planet, humans, love breaking Earth’s rules. For this reason, more rule followers are needed.
“It will 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 speeches on climate change that he often asks people, “Do you love your children?
“Climate change is always a slow process,” he said. “It’s always a generation that fucks the mood. The next generation must cope.
In addition to children, there are billions of people who cannot really switch from fossil fuels to electricity because their daily lives are consumed by trying to find enough food and water to survive.
He said that the whole world shares one atmosphere. It doesn’t matter who emits the most carbon dioxide, it affects everyone. So it’s up to the world to step in and make changes for the younger generations or for the people who don’t have the means to help.
“There’s a lot to unpack, but ultimately it’s about social justice,” White said.
The latest change involves population control, White said.
When the roles are reversed and women gain the power to rule, they have fewer children or have them later in life.
“Those two things naturally lead to a stable population,” he said. “For me, these are really the keys to sustainability and the keys to fighting climate change.”