Many agreed that confronting the existential threats facing society will require changing the “consciousness” of the American public. Indeed, again and again participants conceded that the failure to address environmental challenges, on so many levels, reflects a failure in communications. And so they called for new communications strategies that reach across generations and political ideologies — and that aim to inspire.
In his keynote address, William Reilly
, who served as EPA chief under President George H.W. Bush, argued that achieving a sustainable future will require nothing less than telling a new American story. Or, rather, revisiting an old one.
Reilly cited the historian Jill Lepore, who has made the case that, beginning in the 1960s, a new generation of American historians diverted away from a common history of the U.S. As this shift in scholarship occurred, Reilly said, that national story was subsumed by a larger global story — or, by many smaller stories that dissected America’s “flaws and imperfections.” This trend, Reilly said, helped spawn the current rise in nationalism, victimization, and the “America First” sentiment.
Achieving meaningful change in the face of significant challenges, he said, will require telling a different story.
“America after all is a successful country,” he told a gathering in Kroon Hall. “And the determinants of its success is a story worth telling. We will need to know and believe in such a story if we are to rise to the challenges that climate change will soon present… There is a national story waiting to be told and the environment is central to that story.”
“It is a story of national ambition, harnessed to a vision for fishable and swimmable waters, blue skies and clean air, clean cars and Energy Star buildings, smoke free offices, bars and restaurants,” he added.
he two-day workshop marked a key milestone for the Yale Environmental Dialogue, a new initiative of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) that aims to inject new energy and fresh ideas into the national conversation on environmental policy — particularly in the buildup to the 2020 election. Learn more about the Yale Environmental Dialogue