by Terry Carroll, 1st year MES student and Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Graduate Assistant.
“This climate symposium was the first big event that I had been involved in…”
Tasked with helping to coordinate the speaking presentations at the Climate Change Research and Action Symposium: “It’s Happening. Now What?”– I arrived to a mostly empty recital hall about an hour before the event was set to begin. I was really only there to act as an extra link in the chain of communication between the event organizers and the first keynote speaker. I’d been working with Rhys Roth (MES ‘90), Director of Evergreen’s Center of Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI), since the beginning of fall quarter. This job has proven to be challenging and interesting.
As the Center’s graduate assistant, at times I am delving into research projects, working on updating the Center’s website, or enrolling guest writers into producing content for the CSI blog. Or I am sitting in on meetings with a diverse group of people from the fields of energy, waste, transportation, or water infrastructure. This climate symposium was the first big event that I had been involved in, although I previously sat in on smaller speaking engagements throughout the last few months.
After Rhys arrived and set up his presentation, The AV staff made their final adjustments to the lighting and cameras and waited nervously for Dr. John Byrne to arrive. The Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) and Professor of Energy and Climate Policy at the University of Delaware, Dr. Byrne contributed to Working Group III of the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Panel’s authors and editors. He has helped pioneer an equity- and sustainability-based strategy for resolving socioeconomic and environmental inequality and serves as chairman of the board of the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment (FREE). Evergreen President George Bridges ended up arriving ahead of Dr. Byrne. He shook hands and introduced himself to those of us who had arrived early.
Scott Morgan, Evergreen’s Sustainability Officer did an amazing job of organizing this event and getting the word out in what seemed like a pretty short amount of time. We didn’t know what kind of turnout to expect but the recital hall seemed full– maybe even close to capacity. This was nice considering that the Evergreen video crew would be professionally filming the entire event. Although I had missed the morning’s discussion panels, I had heard from fellow MESers that it was similarly well attended. Not only did a good crowd show up, but they seemed extremely engaged with the subject matter. Both Rhys and Dr. Byrne fielded several questions from some very passionate members of the audience. A few of the questioners even insisted on asking follow-ups. One student pressed Evergreen on its timeline for upgrading facilities to be more efficient and sustainable. Rhys, who this question was directed at, passed off the mic to Scott Morgan, putting him on the spot, which was rather entertaining. Another questioner was skeptical about the amount of optimism both speakers had conveyed. The audience clearly showed a real desire for concrete steps and action that we could take as a community. All in all, the question and answer session generated a lively discussion that really helped bring both the activism and science perspectives to the surface.
“Both speakers gave inspiring speeches and presentations.”
The message of both seemed to be that although we’ve got a lot of work to do, and the ball isn’t rolling as quickly as it should be, it is in fact rolling. Big changes are happening, and we may have the potential to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Clean energy technology has evolved at an unprecedented rate over the past few years. It would be hard to talk about these issues to an engaged crowd and completely avoid the gloom and doom scenarios that we are so used to thinking about, but both speakers managed to paint a fairly
optimistic as well as realistic picture of where we’re currently at with these issues. Dr. Bryne ended his presentation by urging us to make connections with others in the room and to continue this conversation, pointing out that some of the biggest changes that we need to make as a society must arise from a grassroots polycentric movement rather than from the top down.