Spring 2018 and Climate Change: Part I (Student Blog Post!)
Climate change is perhaps the defining issue of our generation: as its effects grow larger, it will affect every person on this planet. And it is clear that we will have to be the generation that tries to stop it before it can wreak utter havoc.
That is why I was so excited to begin this week’s case study on climate change. The week was all the more special because we were making SEGL history: we are the first semester with a case study on global climate change. In short, it turned out fantastically.
The astounding complexity of climate change means that there are a ton of different
entities within the U.S. government that work on it. To help us prepare for our guest
speakers, who come from different parts of that bureaucracy, our week began on
Monday with a brief introduction to how certain parts of the government, especially the
Executive Office of the President and the executive agencies, work.
On Wednesday, armed with that background knowledge, we welcomed Brandi
Colander, who served as Deputy General Counsel for the White House Council on
Environmental Quality (also known as CEQ), the organization within the
government responsible for advising the president on environmental issues and helping
ensure that federal agencies abide by environmental regulations. Ms. Colander served
for several years under President Obama, before moving on to serve at the Department
of the Interior.
During our time with her, Ms. Colander explained the ins and outs of how the
government works to protect the environment, and detailed many of the challenges that
she and her colleagues faced, from helping regions heavily dependent on coal to
working with people who deny the very existence of climate change.
All in all, we greatly enjoyed our meeting with Ms. Colander, and every one of us was
truly impressed by her extensive knowledge of every part of every climate-related issue.
Personally, I also found many of the insights she offered about the direction that climate
policy needs to go in the U.S. to be very valuable.
At the end of the session, Ms. Colander left us with a charge: when we encounter
people with whom we disagree about how to deal with climate change, engage them, so
that we can all work towards a better future. She added that she maintains optimism in
our future, largely because of the power we as students and future leaders
have. It was an inspiring end to a very valuable conversation.
Our next guest speaker joined us on Friday afternoon, when we were honored to
welcome Trigg Talley, who as the Director of the Office of Global Change at the
Department of State, is effectively the top U.S. State Department negotiator on climate
change. In his work at State, he was one of the principal negotiators for
the Paris Agreement and the further conferences that decided on its implementation.
Mr. Talley spent much of his time with us explaining what it was like to try to get 190
countries to sit down together and sign on to one of the largest international agreements in recent history. Among the challenges we discussed were how, as the world’s largest
historical emitter, the U.S. is perceived in these negotiations, as well as how we worked with China in advance of the Paris Agreement to make it more credible.
Personally, I learned a great deal about how difficult it was to come to a consensus, considering the competing interests from every country on the planet, from the small island nations who are greatly concerned about how climate change will affect them to the developing countries who view resources such as coal as integral to their future development.
The clearest lesson, though, was that this is truly an international issue: as hard as we might try (and I would argue, must try) here in the U.S., we won’t be able to protect our planet from catastrophe without a great deal of collaboration from every country on Earth.
In all, this was certainly an exciting week, and each of us were truly lucky to be a part of
this important moment in SEGL history. Our climate change case study is not over yet, though, as in early April (once we return from Spring Break), we will have the opportunity to meet with Khary Cauthen, who served at CEQ under President George W. Bush, and who will provide us with yet another perspective on the different approaches to climate change that our government has taken. (Our teachers have also told us that we will have one more speaker for this case study, but for now, they’re keeping the details a mystery!)
As is always the case at SEGL, though, there was plenty else going on this week. One
of the highlights was a simulation of the election of 1912, which involved all of the U.S.
History students and developed throughout the week. Initially, everyone was divided
into four groups, each representing the campaign of one of the major candidates for
president (Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Eugene
Throughout the week, everyone prepared campaign speeches, designed campaign
posters, and put together campaign videos in an effort to convince each other that their
candidate was the best (all while remaining historically accurate, of course!). This
culminated on Friday, when everyone delivered their final speeches and explained their
campaign strategy to an audience of each other and the students not taking U.S. History
(who represented electors in the Electoral College).
The result felt a little bit similar to recent events, as the ‘popular vote’ and the ‘electoral vote’ selected different candidates, with Theodore Roosevelt leading the popular vote but Woodrow Wilson narrowly clinching the electoral vote. In all, though, it was a fun and educational activity, and it was especially enjoyable to see classmates assume the personas of these important historical figures and, for example, deliver surprise speeches during lunch.
On Monday, we will begin our next case study, which revolves around 2nd Amendment rights in the U.S., and… we will leave for Spring Break! It is hard to believe that we are already about halfway through our semester here in DC: it’s been such an incredible experience so far, and I know that there is a lot more yet to come.