Chad Frischmann, left, of Project Drawdown spoke with Ellen Fierer, ETHS Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher, after the closing plenary.Photo by Heidi Randhava

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More than 400 people attended the 2017 Northwestern Climate Change Symposium, hosted by the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) at the Hilton Orrington Hotel on Nov. 9 and 10. To accommodate high demand for the two-day event, portions of the program were held in adjacent locations, including the Women’s Club of Evanston.

Recognizing that multidisciplinary dialogue is vital to solving the growing threat from global climate change, this year’s symposium featured speakers who are leaders in science, business, and public policy. Businesses, state and local governments, and universities have taken on leadership roles in the fight against climate change at a time when “federal leadership on climate is very much in question,” according to Mike Wasielewski, Executive Director of ISEN and Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University.

“This year, we have witnessed the White House announce its intention to withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, roll back mandates under the Clean Power Plan, and propose drastically lower budgets for vital agencies like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency,” Prof. Wasielewski wrote in a welcome letter to participants.

The current lack of federal leadership on climate has motivated some Americans to take a more active stance on the issue. Christopher Johnson, Conservation Chair of the Woods and Wetlands group of the Illinois Sierra Club, was among those who felt it was important to attend this year’s symposium. Mr. Johnson, a former Evanston resident who currently lives in Highland Park, said the Sierra Club is committed to moving the nation away from dependence on fossil fuels that produce harmful greenhouse gases, and toward cleaner renewable energy sources.

“I attended the symposium, thinking in terms of strategies we can use and information we can bring back in persuading people to support our efforts,” said Mr. Johnson, who attended the event with Charles Frank, a member of the national board of directors of the Sierra Club.

Persuading Americans to confront the facts rather than believe the myths about climate change was the idea behind the symposium’s opening panel discussion, “Call to Action: Climate Communications, Cognitive Science, and Identity Politics.” The panel discussed the challenges and opportunities associated with the fact that only 53% of the U.S. population agrees with the worldwide scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, and is due primarily to greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. Panel members included Wendy Abrams, founder of Cool Globes Inc., Hans Breiter, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and Kaitlin Raimi, Asst. Professor of Public Policy at University of Michigan.

Even when people agree with the overwhelming evidence that climate change is real, the subject can be so daunting that it instills a sense of gloom and doom, rather than an urgency to implement solutions, according to speaker Chad Frischmann, vice president and research director at Project Drawdown.

“Fear and apathy lead to an acceptance of the status quo. They are tools of oppression to maintain business as usual. We need to envision the future that we want and build it. We have the tools we need to do so today,” Mr. Frischmann told the audience at the symposium’s closing plenary, “Drawdown: 100 Substantive Solutions to Global Warming.”

Project Drawdown is a team of over 70 researchers led by Mr. Frischmann who have identified 100 solutions that, if implemented collectively, could realistically keep the temperature of the Earth from rising past the critical mark of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and actually draw down carbon out of the atmosphere to reverse global warming by 2050. The team measured 80 of these solutions that are already up and running around the world and modeled how they might be scaled up over the next 30 years. The solutions are presented in the book, “Drawdown,” which was given to all symposium attendees.

“Project Drawdown is a communications organization and has a foundation as a living research project to reverse global warming. We can all be agents of change,” said Mr. Frischmann.

Some additional topics of discussion included climate activism in China, corporate sustainability and renewable energy procurement, oceans and climate change, and carbon capture and sequestration. Programming included the panel discussion, opening and closing plenaries, and five breakout sessions, each of which offered a science, business, and public policy track.