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The event also served as a preview for the book, “A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future
,” which will be published next month by the Yale University Press. The event was moderated by Daniel Esty
, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale and editor of the book.
The five panelists, each of whom contributed essays to the book, shared with the audience their ideas for tackling the climate challenge. They included:
Susan Biniaz, the former lead climate lawyer for the U.S. State Department and Senior Fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, who suggests the creation of a climate change “SWAT team” that helps align international law and policy with the goals of the Paris Agreement. “We need an inventory of what can be done so that, at the point when the world is actually ready to take this issue seriously, we international lawyers and other policy people are ready to go,” she said.
Gary Brudvig, a professor of chemistry at Yale, who promotes the development of technologies that mimic the process of photosynthesis to store energy created by renewable sources, such as wind and solar. “Biology stores energy in the form of chemical bonds — all our fossil fuels came from this process,” he said. To power the world with renewables, he said, society will have to develop innovative, low-cost technologies to store energy in chemical bonds using “artificial” photosynthesis.
Kenneth Gillingham, associate professor of environmental and energy economy economics at F&ES, who urged policies that promote energy innovation. In particular, he suggests the creation of funding sources — modeled on the so-called TIGER grants (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), that encourage the kinds of projects that produce long-term outcomes. “What I’m focused on in my chapter are areas where a modest amount of funding could go a long way, with the idea that these could help unleash the market.”
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, who suggested strategies for building political will for climate change — including tapping the latent power of 71 million Americans (29 percent) who are “alarmed” by the climate threat. “It’s not enough to have overall public opinion behind you,” he told the audience. “You need an ‘issue’ public, a small set of citizens who are passionate about an issue, who are willing to put themselves on the front line and say, ‘You will take action on my issue!’”
Monica Medina, founder and publisher of Our Daily Planet and former official with the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who urged the expansion of the National Weather Service into a Weather and Climate Service that could help enable the U.S. to confront climate change. What was once known as the Weather Bureau was expanded into the Weather Service, she said, so that it could improve its forecasting abilities. “It’s time to expand our capabilities again given the challenges that we’re up against,” she said.
Following presentations of their ideas, the panelists addressed questions from the audience of more than 200 leaders from government, business, academia, and the non-governmental world.
The event happened at an auspicious time, Esty said. In South America the Amazonian rainforest is burning, and across the world national leaders face the realities of climate change. And even if the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement are achieved, IPCC leaders have warned, it won’t be enough to forestall devastating climate impacts.
“So we face a challenge going forward of how we raise the ambition, move ourselves towards an even more aggressive approach to climate change,” he said. “And we hope the ideas in this book may be part of that process.”