On January 24, more than 200 alumni, students, faculty, staff, and community members attended the first SNRE Dean’s Speaker Series of 2017: Advancing Environmental Sustainability in the Trump Era.
The event, moderated by SNRE’s interim dean, Dan Brown, addressed concerns regarding the future of environmental sustainability under the new federal administration. Brown asked panelists to summarize the challenges they foresee for environmental scientists and advocates and propose potential solutions. The panelists offered some inspiring and thought-provoking advice, highlighted below.
Joe Arvai- “Sustainability challenges are local and global as much as they are national”
Max McGraw Professor of Sustainable Enterprise
Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise
“We are lucky to live in a place like Ann Arbor, but we need to get to know the people that don’t think like us,” said Arvai. Citing the insight he gained from a cross-country motorcycle trip last summer, his advice to the audience was to become more familiar with the country.
Arvai predicts that business and NGOs will fill voids and seize opportunities left open by the federal government, and advised the audience to promote sustainability in unlikely places. “If you go… where you don’t think sustainability is at the cutting edge and try to make your impact there, everything you do will be huge,” he said. “We need to…be willing to roll up our sleeves and fight the worthwhile fight.”
Rosina Bierbaum- “Democracy is a participatory sport”
Professor and Former Dean of SNRE
Former Director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy
Bierbaum offered reason for hope that environmental sustainability efforts will continue. “Democracy is a participatory sport,” she said. “Millions of us are motivated to save what we hold dear and we must get moving.”
She suggested taking action in a number of ways, including contacting government officials, serving on non-profit boards and committees, and assuming the role of civic scientist. "Every one of you ought to be able to give a Climate 101 talk to your neighbor, your grandmother, your daughter," Bierbaum said.
Keith Creagh- “Substantiate the science and have some intellectual curiosity”
Director, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Former Director, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD)
Creagh believes that uncertainty at the federal level and divisiveness of the conversation are the greatest threats to progress. However, he is optimistic that state- and regional-level cooperation will continue, and cited several recent examples of progress made through regional efforts that did not involve the federal government.
Creagh urged members of the audience to defend science. At the same time, he reminded the audience that science is not the only language of sustainability, asking, “How do you engage around a common interest and then bring science to bear to get the right solution?"
Laura Rubin- “Get involved in local leadership initiatives on issues you care about”
Executive Director, the Huron River Watershed Council
Rubin agreed that action at local- and state-levels will be crucial. Many states are already taking leadership on issues of climate, energy, transportation, wetlands, and water, she said.
In response to an audience question about the communication of science, Rubin stressed that the key is to find language that reflects what each constituency or individual cares for, using the example of “heavy rains and flooding” in place of “climate change.”
“Our job in the NGO community is translating science to the general public,” she said.
David Uhlmann- “Retreating into our daily lives [is] the biggest mistake we can make"
Director of the UM Environmental Law and Policy Program
Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice
Uhlmann encouraged audience members to take action by organizing and employing legal and legislative tools, meanwhile maintaining the values of decency, civility, and discourse. "Engage, engage, engage," he said. "Harness all the energy, all the frustration, all the anger, and put it into a positive direction."
"We didn't get here overnight," said Uhlmann about the decline in federal, bipartisan support for pro-environment initiatives. "It's been happening since the end of the 1970s." In 2018 and 2020, he said, "We need to send different people to Washington who... make protecting this planet for all species and for future generations a priority."
Watch the full panel discussion here:
Please save the date for the next Dean’s Speaker Series event, featuring Naomi Oreskes on April 13, 2017