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The politics of climate change

1/3/13

For years, sci­en­tists, politi­cians, and other stake­holders have debated the exis­tence of cli­mate change and its impact on the envi­ron­ment. But the dev­as­tating impact of Hur­ri­cane Sandy appears to have been a tip­ping point in the national conversation.

“Now, cli­mate change is on the radar screen,” said Joan Fitzgerald, the interim dean of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. “The debate isn’t whether or not cli­mate change is happening—it is—but where you put your policy emphasis and where you spend your money.”

Fitzgerald and North­eastern pro­fessor Matthias Ruth of the Col­lege of Engi­neering and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties are co-​​teaching this spring’s Open Class­room series, “Cli­mate Change. Chal­lenges. Solutions.”

The course—which will be free and open to the public and take an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary look at cli­mate change—will run from Jan. 9 to April 17 and will be held on Wednes­days from 6 to 8 p.m. in West Vil­lage F. A variety of dis­tin­guished speakers from both the uni­ver­sity and across the nation will join the weekly discussions.

“Given the fact that some people are still debating whether cli­mate change is hap­pening or not, it’s impor­tant to take stock of the cur­rent sci­ence and research, then show­case all the things that we know and what we can do about it,” said Ruth, the co-​​editor of a new journal, Urban Cli­mate. “It’s a great oppor­tu­nity for us to engage the public and engage other researchers around this issue.”

Fitzgerald, whose book Emerald Cities: Urban Sus­tain­ability and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment addresses cli­mate change in Amer­ican cities, noted that the series would begin with a dis­cus­sion that frames the issue from both a sci­en­tific and eth­ical stand­point. As the semester pro­gresses, the focus will turn to mit­i­gating the effects of cli­mate change and redesigning land­scapes and urban areas to pre­vent future harm to the planet while also preparing for the irre­versible con­se­quences of changing weather patterns.

“We want to put the issues we dis­cuss in a broad policy con­text so we can empower people to do things dif­fer­ently in upcoming elec­tions or in their everyday life,” Ruth explained.

Dou­glas Foy, the former pres­i­dent of the Con­ser­va­tion Law Foun­da­tion and a promi­nent advo­cate for cli­mate change, will lead sev­eral of the semester’s ses­sions. He served in former Mass­a­chu­setts Gov. Mitt Romney’s guber­na­to­rial admin­is­tra­tion as the state’s first sec­re­tary of com­mon­wealth devel­op­ment, over­seeing the state’s trans­porta­tion, housing, energy, and envi­ron­mental agencies.

“We’re really delighted to have Doug involved in this,” Fitzgerald said. “He’ll be a big asset to our weekly dis­cus­sions, com­ple­menting the public speakers we’re bringing in.”

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