Esty Sounds Alarm on Climate Change at Forum, Panelists Echo Sentiment

News Story: September 18, 2015

To view additional photos from the talk, click here.

Dan Esty was commanding, compelling and quite passionate in the message he delivered at Sacred Heart University’s Schine Auditorium Wednesday evening, September 16th—climate change is real, and we must quickly unify under new leadership to make a moral and spiritual commitment to addressing the ecological crisis our world faces.

Esty, who is Hillhouse Professor at Yale University and former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), was introduced by Sacred Heart’s Fr. Anthony Ciorra, facilitator and associate vice president for Mission and Catholic Identity, and served as the keynote speaker of a forum presented by SHU’s Human Journey Colloquia Series titled “New Leadership on Climate Change: From Mayors to the Pope.” Esty and Ciorra were joined by SHU’s Barbara Pierce, associate professor, biology; Brian Stiltner, chair and professor of theology, religious studies and philosophy; and Lucian Orlowski, professor of economics. Their discussion was inspired by and revolved around Pope Francis’ book, Laudato Si, the first papal encyclical focused solely on the environment. Wednesday’s presentation was free and attended by a full house of students, faculty and community members.

“This is a perfect, special and critical moment not just because the pope is coming next week, but because the United Nations is finalizing sustainable development goals and global quantitative targets with regard to a 21st-century approach to ecological problem solving, designed to achieve better results than past efforts,” Esty said. He warned that the policy area needs to be more careful not to silo decision making as plans move forward.

Esty also made reference to Ban Ki-moon, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, who is spearheading the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, set for November 30 to December 11, 2015. The conference objective is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of U.N. negotiations, a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. The pope’s encyclical, calling for action against human-caused climate change, aims to influence the conference.

Twenty-five years ago, Esty was a young official with the EPA in Washington, D.C., and helped establish the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which provided for yearly meetings among nations going forward. “Since then, we’ve had much success, but little real success,” Esty said, with regard to worldwide progress. “The world community is poised to do much better than the previous generation, but new leadership is inescapably important.”

Esty explained that the old plan was “top down” and not well executed, and that presidents and prime ministers have little influence on policies day-to-day. “We need broader engagement to shift the world to cleaner energy solutions. We need to bring in mayors, provincial leaders and corporate leaders and get them involved,” suggested Esty. He also advised a “shift to a much sharper action orientation” and establishing a new structure of measures and performance tracking to inspire competition and sharing of best practices.

Astoundingly, Esty says that the U.S. alone needs to make a minimum investment of $100 billion a year to reframe the infrastructure of this country to achieve a clean energy future. He pointed to smart approaches like Connecticut Green Bank, which leverages public and private funds to drive investment and scale up clean energy deployment across the state.

Esty also called for penalties and laws that prevent businesses from doing damage to the environment. “Businesses can’t continue to make pollution society’s problem,” he said.

Banging the drum, Esty concluded by echoing Pope Francis’ sentiments, that we must be committed to something greater than ourselves and be better stewards of the Earth. “Think of the Earth as a sister, a mother, a member of the family. The abuse of this family member is unacceptable,” he said.

SHU panelists were in step with Esty’s comments, particularly with regard to our moral obligation to our planet. Pierce said it’s convenient to blame population growth for our issues, but it’s not necessarily the case. “This is beyond a science issue and running out of resources. This is an issue of ‘how do we treat something that is giving back to us?’ There has to be a moral obligation to bettering and the common good.”

Stiltner remarked on the joyful nature of the pope and his view of the world and that it “should be a joy to be connected to the earth.”

Orlowski commented, “All human beings should be entitled to the fruits of Mother Earth, and none of us have the right to plunder them. The main problem for this pope is the disconnect between the poorest among us and their access to the fruits.”