participants in conference

Climate Change Is a Hot Topic at SPIA in “Climate Change 101” Student-Organized Workshop

Oct 11 2022
Claire Kaufman and Jessie Press-Williams

Climate change 101 conference posterOn September 9th, just 4 days into Fall Semester, a group of second-year MPA students in partnership with the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment (C-PREE) hosted the first-ever Climate Change 101: Policymaking on a Rapidly Warming Planet workshop for SPIA students. We started thinking about this workshop last spring; the idea grew out of a desire expressed by many of our classmates to explore how climate change will impact their policy areas of interest even if it is not their main focus.

When we envisioned this workshop just 10 months prior, we had no idea there would be so much interest: over 105 students registered and 6 of the most prestigious energy and environment professors (as well as a practitioner and a postdoc) shared their wisdom on climate and policy.

Perhaps not surprising, though. Climate change is an existential and intersectional threat. It is one of the most challenging issues facing policymakers, and will be the defining crisis facing our generation. Despite the fact that students come into the program with a diverse array of interests, backgrounds, and passions – one of my absolute favorite parts about SPIA – many wanted the tools to better understand and address the dangers of climate change and the role it is playing in exacerbating inequities.

students in front of Scudder fountainWhen we first arrived on campus, we had convened a group of peers interested in climate policy, which quickly grew into the much larger “Climate Club”. We began advocating for more climate in the curriculum and even surveyed our peers, finding a majority (90%) were interested in learning more about climate change and policy while at SPIA. A core group of us – Keely Swan from C-PREE and fellow students Hilary Landfried, Kacie Rettig, and ourselves (all pictured below) – started to meet regularly to discuss the idea of a climate education workshop. In June 2022, with the support of Dean Amaney and the SPIA administration, we officially decided to host this workshop, and by August every single Princeton professor we asked enthusiastically agreed to present (a testament to the interest in the topic).

Our final program was the following:

  • Lunch and Pre-Workshop Poll
  • Welcome and Introduction
  • Climate 101: The Basics
    • Climate Science and Context with Denise Mauzerall, Professor of Environmental Engineering and International Affairs
    • Mitigation Pathways and Energy Technologies with Jesse Jenkins, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
    • Policy, Governance, and Adaptation with Michael Oppenheimer, Director of C-PREE, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences, International Affairs, and HMEI
  • Climate Disruptions Panel
    • Introduction by Vice-Dean Miguel Centeno
    • Climate change and finance with Katya Gratcheva, Lead Finance Office at Climate Investment Funds
    • Environment and economic/international development with Seema Jayachandran, Professor of Economic and Public Affairs
    • Migration/mobility and conflict in the context of climate change with Lisa Thalheimer, C-PREE Postdoctoral Research Associate
    • Cities and infrastructure planning with  Anu Ramaswami, Sanjay Swani ’87 Professor of India Studies; Professor of CEE, PIIRS, HMEI
    • Environmental justice with  Nicky Sheats, Director, Center for the Urban Environment at Kean University
  • Strategic Foresight Scenario Building and Policy Implications led by 8 student facilitators (a selection of mind-maps from these breakout rooms below)
  • Closing and Happy Hour

The Strategic Foresight Scenario breakout session focused on challenging assumptions – a critical skill in the face of a climate crisis which will (and is already) challenging the assumptions that are baked into policymaking. The methodology for this session was designed with skills developed during Hilary Landfried’s summer internship at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its project the Strategic Foresight for Successful Net-Zero Transitions.

Each session, facilitated by a student volunteer, received a “disruption,” something that is possible to occur but has not yet happened. For example, the Green Tech Failure disruption scenario described a future in which technological progress for green transitions is underwhelming. Another disruption group focused on Sea Level Rise, exploring the consequences of the predicted half a meter rise in sea level by 2050.

Breakout session participants created “mind-maps” to think through what the future would look like under their disruption. Then, participants tested assumptions under their future world - asking what commonly held policy assumptions are credible, uncertain, or vulnerable in one potential climate future. Strategic thinking like this is crucial for training the next generation of climate-aware policymakers, and for preparing us to be resilient in a rapidly changing future.

writing on chalkboard
Mind-maps from breakout sessions.

On one of the last beautiful days of summer, to have so many students choose to spend their Friday afternoon in a classroom was a testament to engaging material and energy around this topic. We’re excited to see how the next generation of MPA students grow this workshop in the future, and continue sharing knowledge and resources with the Princeton community.

“As a newcomer to the climate change area, it was helpful to have expert presenters offer basic information on the subject at the onset of the workshop. That offering allowed me to better participate in the more specific discussions later throughout the day and ultimately helped guide me to the policy areas within climate change on which I’d like to focus.” - Testimonial from a workshop participant.

Charts displaying feedback from the audience at the end of the workshop.
Feedback from the audience at the end of the workshop.

Talking about climate change for 5 hours can be overwhelming and demoralizing. It is a difficult problem to solve and involves deep issues of equity and justice. However, SPIA brings together a group of talented and motivated future policymakers. We hope that this workshop helped raise awareness among this cohort of the need to understand and imagine a different future and inspires them to take the skills learned here and apply them to craft resilient policy on our warming planet.

Miguel Centeno introducing panelists
Vice-Dean Miguel Centano introducing the Climate Change Disruptions Panel.