Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

EcoPledge Hosts Panel of Environmental Experts to Discuss Climate Change

EcoPledge hosted a panel of environmental experts on Thursday to discuss the ramifications of climate change, each providing their own unique insights regarding the context of the issue and the best ways to fight it. 

Titled “Setting the World Aflame: The Human Impact of Climate Change and How We Can Begin to Solve it,” the panel included a diverse set of expert opinions on environmental issues, including Boston College professors, and was moderated by EcoPledge members Carmen Chu, MCAS ‘22, and Autumn Hauser, MCAS ‘21. 

The professors involved with the panel were Zygmunt Plater, an accomplished environmental lawyer who has argued cases before the Supreme Court; David Deese, whose scholarship focuses on American energy policy and international politics; and Ling Zhang, an environmental historian. Joining these three professors was Lisle Baker, a Newton City Councillor for over 35 years, becoming an expert in local environmental issues due to his background in property law and zoning.

During the panel, the experts focused extensively on what steps could be taken to combat climate change. Plater referred to the Green New Deal as a, “set of aspirations'' which he found to be, “interesting.”

However, in Plater’s view, the most important step to combat climate change is to increase the price of carbon to reflect its hidden social costs. Rather than relying on a, “bunch of regulations,” Plater argued that a carbon tax would, “put a price,” on carbon and allow markets to adjust and phase out carbon-heavy industries.

In support of this view, he cited its widespread approval among those who study the intersection between climate and economics, such as a World Bank task force. He also cited its potential for bipartisan support, referencing positive remarks made by Rex Tillerson, former Secretary of State under Donald Trump, who also served as a former CEO of Exxon.

The panelists, however, were also quick to point out the numerous hurdles standing in the way of meaningful climate reform. 

First, they all singled out so-called “iron triangles”—the policymaking relationship between industry lobbyists, bureaucratic regulatory agencies, and congressional committees.

Washington is, “dominated by the triangles,” Plater stated, as these groups align themselves together to preserve their mutual interests.

Due to these triangles, Deese remarked that it is especially, “difficult to get effective energy policy in the US,” and that the, “deep connections between regulators and the industries they’re regulating,” seem to preclude any sort of meaningful oversight.

When change does occur, it is usually in the wake of a crisis, which can act as a focusing event for public opinion so that a policy window opens up, making reform possible. 

For Plater, the biggest obstacle to meaningful action on climate change is the incumbent president. “To make climate change litigation more effective, you have to get rid of this man,” Plater stated as he pointed to a projected image of Trump. 

In his three years in office, Donald Trump has attempted to roll back nearly 100 environmental regulations, succeeding 58 times, with other proposed rollbacks still pending. 

This destructive approach reflects what Deese termed the, “big swings of the pendulum in American politics,” in which parties seek to constantly undermine and dismantle the previous work of their opposition in order to better posture themselves.

To illustrate this point, Deese used the example of Carter and Reagan, which he sees as a metaphor for the broader American political landscape: “Carter put the solar panels on the White House, Reagan takes them down.”

However, despite the immense damage the president has done to the environment and attempts to save it, Plater nevertheless expressed his hopeful belief that “Mr. Trump is outnumbered.”

Although these impediments may seem daunting to climate activists, Deese stated that even, “absent the perception of a crisis,” reform can still be brought about by, “very strong political leadership.” He singled out California as an “example of leadership” due to their efforts to become the vanguard of the fight against climate change while the federal government neglects its duty to act.

Whereas the other panelists focused more on the technical details behind climate change, Zhang instead took a step back, and sought to address the issue from a historical and philosophical perspective. As an environmental historian, Zhang emphasized that it is, “absolutely necessary [to] study environmental history to bring historical sensitivity [and] historical depth,” to the debate.

Additionally, Zhang argued that, “the ways in which we think philosophically on how we relate to the world,” directly affect the policies and actions we pursue. Whereas humanity has traditionally seen itself as, “conqueror of the world, consumer of the world,” she believes that we must now ask ourselves whether, “the environment has the right to exist on its own terms.”

Because national policy is still severely lacking, Baker urged the audience to get involved in local environmental efforts. The city councilor brought up the ongoing legal dispute between the university and the city of Newton over Webster Woods. 

He applauded the “very important” work BC students have done by taking regular water samples in the woods and advocating for its preservation, and urged the audience to join them in working locally to protect environmental resources.

Baker also encouraged students to work within the school itself, adding that he hopes students, “will have a conversation while [they’re] here with the administration.” However, attempts by student environmental activist groups to initiate dialogue with the administration have generally fallen on deaf ears.

However, events at other universities have shown that there is hope that student advocacy can help spur reform by university officials. Last week, Georgetown University announced that it would begin the process of divesting from fossil fuels after a successful campaign by environmental activists at the school.