C+S Takes Over CNN’s Climate Crisis Town Hall

Last Wednesday, CNN held a historic climate town hall with Democratic presidential candidates, and C+S was there to represent in full force. Two current students and one alum were selected to ask questions about the most pressing problem facing humanity today. Their questions perfectly encapsulated what the program is about.

Grennan Milliken from this year’s class asked front runner presidential candidate Bernie Sanders about his plan for fossil fuel workers as the world transitions away from carbon-intensive forms of energy. A just transition is enshrined the Green New Deal (which Sanders supports), but the policy specifics for how the federal government can protect those workers from losing their jobs and being lost in the transition are still being hammered out.

Sanders touted his record of voting pro-union and said he wanted to make clear ‘the coal miners of this country, the men and women who work on oil rigs are not my enemy.” His recently released climate plan includes billions to help ensure workers don’t get left behind in the new clean energy economy that will be necessary to address climate change (C+S faculty member Brian Kahn has a helpful overview of Sanders’ plan).

Sarah Smith, an alum from last year’s class and current core course assistant, asked tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang about his controversial embrace of geoengineering in his climate plan. Geoengineering can refer to both blocking incoming solar radiation and using both technology and natural solutions to suck carbon out of the air. Smith’s question focused on the latter as she asked Yang to quantify how much his plan would reduce emissions.

Yang responded by noting geoengineering is “not a primary approach at all, we have to reduce emissions.” He then pivoted to talking about the risks of “rogue actors” undertaking projects to block out sunlight, a move which would cool the planet but likely have unintended consequences on weather patterns and crop production. It could also destabilize international relations around the world, particularly if a rogue state of group of wealthy individuals decided to take it up as a cause.

Gianna Lum, another student from this year, had a question for Julián Castro about a topic near and dear to the program’s heart: should climate change should be taught in schools and if so, how should curriculums be structured?

Castro called it “essential” to teach climate change in schools and called for “structural changes” to the education system, including improving how education boards members are elected. In Texas—the state Castro hails from—he pointed to how the school board there has an outsized influence on what goes into textbooks. The state is one of only 10 states to not update its scientific curriculum standards, meaning teachers there aren’t required to teach climate science.

Taken together, the questions (and candidates’ answers) show just how far-ranging the intersection of climate and society is, and the types of transformational changes required to avert the worst impacts of climate change. They also neatly highlight why the program touches on both science and policy. The two have to inform each other or else society will be flying blind.

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