Environmental policy engages networking, activism

Eban Goodstein returns to Union for the first time since 1993 to give his talk in the Nott Memorial on Thursday. The talk is part of his ongoing tour to publicize the Power Dialogue to college students across the country. (Sarah Chang | Concordiensis)

On Thursday, Sept. 24, Union welcomed Bard College’s Director of Graduate Programs in Sustainability, Eban Goodstein, to speak about his work on environmental policy.

Goodstein spoke at a dinner and discussion with a small group of students in Green House. The event was titled “How to Get a Job Saving the Planet: Sustainability Careers in Business, NGO’s and Government”, and had a following talk in the Nott, entitled “New Rules for Climate Protection: Student and Citizen Action to Change the Future.”

Goodstein’s message during the dinner and discussion was geared towards students who wanted to pursue a career in sustainability after graduation. Goodstein directed the students to approach a sustainability career from three different angles, or “buckets,” as he described it.

The first is from a policy perspective. Policymakers make informed decisions oftentimes from the perches of government or an NGO. They play an increasingly important role in corporate sustainability where the right policies put in place can incentivize or influence sustainable practices.

The second bucket is education. Careers in education include professors, researchers, curriculum developers and much more. Educators communicate to the public the sustainability challenges of our world and express them through scientific, verbal or artistic means.

The third bucket is business. In recent decades, a rising number of firms and companies have steered away from the traditional business-profit driven model, wherein environmental consequences were seen as costs to be externalized. These firms and companies have begun to see that it is in their interest to address social and environmental problems.

As businesses seek out new opportunities in green technology and sustainability, they have emerged as a key force in shaping and driving policy.

Goodstein’s message for a student interested in saving the planet is to go to graduate school sooner, rather later.

Unless the student is totally unsure of which of the above buckets to pursue, in deep debt or has already found a job that significantly advances their career, graduate school can sharpen one’s mastery in a specialized discipline and serve as leverage to land leadership positions in sustainability.

Goodstein touted Bard College’s graduate programs as one of the few with a carefully tailored sustainability component integrated into a core business curriculum, heavily emphasizing learning through experience, networking and professional internships.

During the discussion, a student asked Goodstein specific questions about working with large firms, especially when increased regulations on sustainability pose problems for business.

Students were also interested in how non-environmental policy or non-social science majors can still pursue a career in sustainability, upon which Goodstein replied that an undergraduate major doesn’t dictate one’s future job.

Goodstein’s public talk in the Nott reflected his overall thrust for the evening — that we are living in a critical time of climate change.

Within this context, Goodstein gave an overview of U.S. climate policy since the Clean Air Act of 1970. Goodstein reflected that the bipartisan nature of tackling climate change has collapsed due to political gridlock, despite increased scientific knowledge and consensus on global warming since this issue first gained traction in 1988.

To make up for legislative inaction, domestic climate policy has increasingly been shaped on the executive and judicial fronts, expressed Goodstein. He cited the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s order to raise fuel economy standards in cars and trucks, increased solar and wind production and the Massachusetts vs. EPA court case. The case required the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles as examples of climate policy making a difference to bend the curve and flat line CO2 emissions despite political gridlock.

Goodstein’s talk at Union is part of his domestic tour to raise awareness for the Power Dialogue.

The Power Dialogue is organized by Goodstein’s team at Bard College to engage 10,000 students across the country in conversation by April 2016 with state regulators in charge of implementing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which mandates every state to carry out carbon pollution cuts in the electric power sector and transition to zero-carbon emitting power.

The purpose of the Power Dialogue is to empower students in civic engagement and activism in order to influence the scope and direction of state-level policymaking.

Goodstein entreated students to take on such discourse because students have a legitimate voice to participate in a dialogue dominated by fossil-fuel industry lobbyists.

Goodstein concluded by telling students that we are living in a “uniquely depressing moment” in terms of climate change, but that social activism has always been key in pushing an issue to the front of the agenda.

He drew parallels to the anti-Keystone XL protest outside the White House, and the Occupy Wall Street encampments as examples of activism that delivered on their message and stirred global dialogue.


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