Beth Sawin at UMass Lowell: Climate Change Solutions for the Future We Need

Beth Sawin at UMass Lowell: Climate Change Solutions for the Future We NeedCreating workable solutions to climate change isn’t easy, but human beings have a history of overcoming obstacles in difficult times (as we’ve said before, ending the slave trade was once similarly thought of as impossible).

In her speech at a teach-in at UMass Lowell, Climate Interactive Co-Director Beth Sawin reminded us that enormous progress on climate change is possible, as long as we’re ready to make some serious changes.  For inspiration, she said, she likes to look to her family history.

Here’s an excerpt from her speech:

In 1943 my grandparents built a house. They were barely out of their teens, already married, with two young children. As far as I know, they had never done anything as huge as building a house

But times were hard, money was tight and they kept getting evicted from whatever rundown housing they could find.

So they built a house. By hand.  Really by hand. They dug the cellar with shovels and they built the walls and roof with salvaged materials.

My grandmother pulled every nail in that house out of a salvaged board, straightened it and put it in a pile for my grandfather to reuse.  How many nails was that? Five hundred? Eight hundred?

That’s part of where I come from. I come from people who did what they had to do to make a better future for themselves.

And if you look back at your own family tree I know that somewhere, maybe in many places, you come from something similar.  We all do.

Some of us come from immigrants who left everything familiar behind, some of us come from people who survived war or poverty or hunger and all of us come—far back in human history—from people who created revolution after revolution, people who tamed fire, people who discovered farming, people who built cities.

Doing what needs to be done is something human beings have done before and it is something we need to do again.  Something we need to do now.

What needs to be done isn’t just one thing, but rather a combination of steps.  Using our computer simulation, En-ROADS, she showed one scenario for avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change:  a combination of actions that boost energy efficiency, protect forests, reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases, internalize the cost of carbon pollution and reduce consumption.

As Dr. Sawin concluded,

So far we aren’t doing what needs to be done—at least not fast enough and not at a big enough scale. En-ROADS can show what’s possible but it can’t make those possibilities happen—only people can do that.

We are, in a way, building a really big house together.  Just like my grandmother straightened nails and my grandfather pounded them, we each have jobs that only we can do, jobs at the intersection of what needs to be done, what we each are good at and what we love to do.

Just like building a house, tackling climate change will take a lot of hard work from a lot of people.  But the great thing about big tasks like this is that there’s a job for everybody.  Dr. Sawin ended her speech with examples of some of the many diverse skills that will be needed as we, like generations before us, do what needs to be done:

  • Teaching others
  • Organizing communities and building political will
  • Inventing new technologies or doing basic research
  • Designing and building new infrastructures
  • Creating art or stories that inspire and motivate
  • Conserving land, protecting forests, renewing agriculture
  • Crafting effective policies
  • Sharing more and consuming less
  • Taking care of people during a time of great transition
  • What else? – that only YOU can do?

Watch the full speech here (starting from 35:00)