This Thursday, February 23, 2023, Poly’s Global Initiatives Program hosted a riveting event with Dr. Sonja Klinsky. Dr. Klinsky is an associate professor in the school of Sustainability at Arizona State University’s College of Global Futures. Dr. Klinsky specializes in the ethical dilemmas of climate change and its solutions, specifically the policy work on an international level. Furthermore, Dr. Klinsky has observed many United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change negotiations since 2009. Needless to say, Dr. Klinsky is an expert on justice-focused international policies that address climate issues.
As the co-founder and co-leader of Poly’s Climate Action Together, an environmental club that focuses on equitably transforming our local communities into a more sustainable, eco-friendly environment through education and action, I was invited to an extra Q&A session with Dr. Klinsky and other students on campus who have demonstrated a particular interest in sustainability initiatives on campus. The meeting was held during the school day before the evening event and about 15 other students attended. We all introduced ourselves and described our sustainability initiatives on campus, then we were given the opportunity to ask Dr. Klinsky whatever we wanted. We began by discussing the importance of communication as environmental clubs. Dr. Klinsky wisely pointed out that the best way to advance our initiatives is to communicate, challenge, and work together to create new ideas. Our talk transitioned into the international scene as Dr. Klinsky noted how this idea is mimicked on a larger scale of the globe.
On the topic of climate change on an international scale, we asked Dr. Klinsky many questions about the inequalities between those who contribute most to climate change and those who are most vulnerable to its adverse effects. Thus, we began discussing the hypothetical solution of the redistribution of sustainable energy. This is the idea that countries that generate the most energy should redistribute that energy to other countries who need it most; therefore, countries are not over-using energy for luxurious reasons and countries who are in energy poverty can receive the energy they need to improve the living standards of their country. Though this solution may sound ideal in theory, we worked through the different economic and ethical pressures involved and how an international power may or may not be able to actually enforce this hypothetical policy. Our conversation flowed into many similar topics like livestock taxes and their attempt to reduce carbon emissions.
By the end of the meeting, I felt so empowered by Dr. Klinsky’s knowledge. At school, we often talk about solutions to climate change on a small level, like composting or using less reusable plastics; however, I have never really thought through the international solutions in such depth as we did with Dr. Klinsky. I was truly inspired.
During the Global Initiatives evening event, Dr. Klinsky started by explaining why she is interested in Climate Change ethics. Dr. Klinsky recalled a powerful interaction she had with a Nigerian NGO(non-governmental organization) leader, who was concerned about agriculture work. The Nigerian NGO leader begged her the question, “when will they see us?” referring to how minority communities and poorer countries are constantly overlooked when finding climate change solutions. From this interaction, Dr. Klinsky recognized her privilege and thus her responsibility to help solve climate change ethically.
For Dr. Klinsky’s presentation, she started with the historical responsibilities related to climate change, then moved on to the impacts of climate change, the existing inequalities and how they limit capabilities, then finally she ended by looking toward the future. Some moments that stood out to me were when Dr. Klinsky pointed out the trends on a map that showed how the richest countries are the largest contributors to climate change while the poorest are the most vulnerable to its dangerous effects. Specifically, Dr. Klinsky said that the United States is responsible for 1/4 of the earth’s cumulative emissions, while the entire continent of Africa is only responsible for 3%. Additionally, I was intrigued by Dr. Klinsky’s argument that climate change inequalities exist in the US largely because of our fundamental economic framing. Dr. Klinsky further explained how race, gender, age, sex, class, and other aspects of identity impacts climate change.
Finally, Dr. Klinsky left the audience with an empowering speech about avenues of action. She broke down climate action into four main types: daily decisions, big decisions, political action, and social action. Daily decisions consist of solutions like eating vegetarian, biking to work or using less water. Big decisions include buying a more eco-friendly house, deciding how many kids to have, and the location of your residence. Political action includes voting, writing letters to local politicians, and peaceful protests. Social action includes raising awareness by having conversations with your family, friends, and co-workers. Dr. Klinsky heavily emphasized that everyone has an avenue of action they can take. She empowered everyone in the audience to take action. I found this extremely impactful and can’t wait to see what new initiatives pop up in the Poly community!