WU hosts workshop on climate change

| Senior News Editor

Washington University hosted “Reflections on Climate Change,” an environmental workshop featuring Chancellor Mark Wrighton and several influential figures in climate change policy Sept. 29.

Other participants included Christiana Figueres, a former United Nations executive secretary, Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, and Jeff Seale, an associate science fellow at Bayer Crop Science.

The University recently joined the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), a network of 17 North American universities committed to improving climate change solutions. UC3 members pledged to use their resources to work together on energy and environmental issues.

The University’s International Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (InCEES) organized the workshop and speakers in light of this recent collaboration. To date, InCEES has funded more than 120 research projects involving over 200 researchers.

The panelists discussed a variety of issues surrounding climate change. Brune asserted that coal itself is not a sustainable source of energy.

“There is no way in which coal can be made clean,” Brune said. “So, I think the responsible thing for us to do here in St. Louis, the home of Peabody Coal, the home of Arch Coal, in a town that is powered 70 percent by coal, is to be honest with each other about what this city needs, what [this] state needs, and what this country needs.”

The speakers also emphasized the importance of bolstering clean energy through divestment from fossil fuel companies.

“I will say that the divestment movement, where the Sierra Club has only been a very, very small part, is one of the more powerful movements beginning to shift trillions of dollars away from fossil fuels towards clean energy, some say six trillion,” Brune said.

Figueres has taken a strong stance against fossil fuels investment while acknowledging the difficulty of divestment.

“I [made] the decision about two years ago that I will no longer accept an honorary degree from any academic institution that has not divested,” Figueres said. “Having said that, divesting is not an easy step to take.”

According to Wrighton, the McDonnell International Scholars Academy partners will meet in approximately a week and a half in Beijing to discuss sustainability efforts.

“We have 34 university partners—at least one on every populated continent,” Wrighton said. “Together, we’re going to be sharing what we’re doing at Washington University and learning from our partner universities what progress they are making in overcoming the challenge of climate change.”

Figueres encouraged the audience to continue to fight for justice for the environment.

“We can’t afford to fail,” Figueres said. “The challenge that we have here is to be optimistic [about the] input to the work that needs to be done and be buttressed by the fact that we just can’t afford not to do it. And remain absolutely focused on what you know needs to be changed, remain absolutely focused that you know that you will be on the right side of history…Do not be frustrated, you will prevail.”

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