On Tuesday night, Eban Goodstein stood before an audience of mainly college students at the University of Montana and urged them to take action in making climate change the most important issue of their generation.
“This really is the mission of your generation, and with that mission you cannot afford to fail,” he said.
Goodstein, a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College in Portland Oregon and founder of Focus the Nation, was speaking as part of the University’s Wilderness Issues Lecture Series. Goodstein said that in order to posses technologies such as solar energy and wind power that will be vital for dealing with global warming, today’s college students must convince their leaders to make investments right now. Goodstein called the process “intergenerational gift giving” and said that it is necessary considering the level of restructuring required by future generations.
“You guys are going to have to rewire the entire planet with clean energy technologies,” he said.
Efforts to curb global emissions and transition to clean energy should be promoted by the United States Government by investing $30 to $40 billion a year in renewable energy technologies, Goodstein. He acknowledged that the cost would be high, but said that it is well within the realm of possibility considering the monthly tab for the Iraq war could account for almost half of his proposed yearly investment. Goodstein noted that America’s disproportionate level of pollution — accounting for over 20 percent of the world’s CO2 with only four percent of its population — places the responsibility to reduce the atmosphere’s carbon blanket and stabilize the climate largely on our shoulders.
“The reality is that only the power of the U.S. government is going to be the agent that can make these collective changes,” he said.
Despite the growing public support for clean energy technologies and emissions reductions, Goodstein pointed to a lack of political will as the main obstacle preventing federal mandates to cut carbon, promote clean energy, or allow U.S. involvement in global efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol.
“It’s as if the only people who don’t get how serious global warming is happen to live within the beltway in Washington D.C.,” he said.
Because of the sluggish nature of the federal government and its susceptibility to gridlock and political pandering, Goodstein said it is unrealistic to think change will occur without outside pressure. Goodstein told interested audience members to volunteer with local organizations such as Missoula’s Global Warming Solution and also participate in national efforts such as Power Shift and Focus the Nation. These grassroots efforts, he said, are capable of initiating national policy change that can stabilize global CO2 emissions somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 parts per million. Goodstein’s plans for next February’s Focus the Nation include expanding the number of involved colleges and institutions from 1,900 to over 10,000 and increasing the number of national politicians from 75 to 375.
“This is not a protest movement,” he said, “this is a solutions movement.”
Goodstein offered a sense of historical perspective on the issue, citing instances of change such as abolition and women’s suffrage that were driven by the efforts of concerned citizens who acted to change government policies.
He presented two possible futures, one with massive extinctions and environmental collapse and the other with noticeable differences but still retaining a recognizable environment. Goodstein advised his audience to work for the best possible future, so that in the year 2040, today’s students can say that they fulfilled their duty.
“By that time you will have brought an end to the fossil fuel era,” he said. “Are you ready?”