Speaking to about 150 students, faculty and policymakers Thursday afternoon, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and UC Berkeley professor of public policy Daniel Kammen discussed the link between income inequality and climate policy, calling on the audience to seek climate change solutions in settings from the laboratory to the legislature.
The forum was organized by the Global Policy Initiative, a student organization founded by UC Berkeley seniors Anthony Ayala and Shuyu Yang this semester, and aimed to stimulate a multidisciplinary discussion addressing climate change and social inequality.
Reich noted that the poor in particular face negative and dramatic consequences of climate change.
“They’re the ones who have the most fragile environments,” said Reich, who is also a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. “They’re the ones who are living in housing and environments that are the most easily affected by rising sea levels, intensifying weather patterns, by every sort of weather system that is making life harder on this planet.”
He added that impoverished people across the globe struggle to find clean drinking water and arable land.
Kammen said that although the scientific community has studied geochemistry and atmospheric sciences in detail, researchers have failed to translate their findings into solutions.
Although natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy draw significant attention immediately after they strike, the “fall-off is incredibly fast,” Kamman said. He added that scientists need to effectively communicate their message so climate change maintains its status as a front-line issue.
“We have a whole variety of scientific technological market tools at our disposal, but the scientific community hasn’t found a way to stand up clearly enough,” he said. “We haven’t found a way to make ourselves, as climate scientists, bold or engaged or active enough to really make this work.”
Kammen added that the link between clean energy and economic equity has not been made clear to society.
Both professors discussed the benefits that can come from pushing for clean energy sources and argued that renewable energy can help create jobs because it is labor intensive. They also advocated the creation of a carbon tax, which other nations have already implemented.
Cassie Doyle, consul general of Canada, attended the discussion and said afterward that there is significant international collaboration in the field of clean energy. However, she added that she had not heard much about the connection between climate change and inequality and that there should be “more alignment” between the fields.
Reich and Kammen highlighted the role of the university in addressing the issues — both professors encouraged disinvestment from fossil fuel industries, which they said could send positive symbolic messages with potential political significance. They said, however, that the university’s job does not stop there.
“One of the roles is not only to generate new research and new knowledge about how we can approach these two challenges but also to come up with some ways we can demonstrate the efficacy of our solutions and show how we can put them into political practice,” Reich said. “We shouldn’t think of our research as ending at the shore of implementation.”