Day three of the Right Here Right Now Global Climate summit at CU Boulder was filled with discussions of concrete solutions and urgent calls for collective action to reduce the human toll of the climate crisis today and to fend off a catastrophic future.
To get there, panelists and speakers said the world must update its infrastructure, rethink its economy and consider Indigenous knowledge alongside Western science. And a new generation of climate defenders must better communicate the realities of the crisis in ways that strengthen the movement and foster political will.
“We’ve heard from the activists. We know they’re being threatened. They’re being jailed for their work. They’re being deprived of their livelihoods,” said U.N. Human Rights Officer Therese Arnesen after the close of the summit. “Now we need to move to action.”
Here’s a look at what that action might look like, according to participants who attended the third day of the summit:
Adapt to reality now to save lives
While the mitigation of future warming must remain a priority, the world is progressing slowly on this front, and countries must adapt to global climate realities now to save lives, said economist Elizabeth Robinson, director of the Grantham Research Institute, during a panel on Adaptation, Mitigation and Disaster Response.
Robinson noted that after a 2003 heat wave led to 15,000 deaths in France, the French government established an early warning system that now alerts elderly people and other vulnerable communities of oncoming heat waves and directs them to cooling stations. When another heat wave hit in 2019, 1,500 died, a fraction of the number who might have died had the warning system not been implemented.
Similarly in Nigeria, the government has invested in programs to assure that construction and agricultural workers, whose health is increasingly threatened due to climate change, have access to water and toilets on hot days.
“We must continue to focus on mitigation, but adaptation can work. It can save lives, and it’s not that complicated,” she said.
Expedite a global green energy infrastructure
Martin Keller, director of the National Renewable Energy Lab based in Golden, Colorado, joined Robinson on the panel.
Keller added that scientists and energy companies from the developed world could make a big difference in mitigating future warming if they would do more to help developing countries transition to a cleaner energy infrastructure, powered by solar and wind.
He noted that many countries, particularly in Africa, have no electricity at all yet, so providing funding and expertise now can enable them to skip powering their country with fossil fuels entirely, much like they skipped landline telephones and went directly to cell phones.
“We need to act now to prevent them from making the same mistakes that we have,” Keller said.
He stressed that the transition to green energy must be a just one, considering and financially supporting those at risk of losing their livelihood.
Rethink what rich means
Solutions for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change abound, and many are within reach, “But a crucial question we have to confront is: Who will pay?” noted economist Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the Climate Policy Lab, during a panel on economics, pricing and policy.
Some panelists throughout the day suggested that in carbon offset systems, the price of carbon is already too low and should be raised.
Others pointed to the recent Loss and Damage fund established at the United Nations’ COP27 climate conference as a ray of hope, if implemented properly.
And many suggested that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank should be overhauled to make them more amenable to investing in green economies.
“If you think about these two institutions, they have become conservative and risk averse and in reality they should be the opposite,” said Robinson.
On a more fundamental level, it could be time for many to reimagine what it means to be rich.
“What if we saw it as having clean air and clean water,” said Canadian youth activist Tia Kennedy, during the summit’s closing panel on traditional knowledge.
Consider Indigenous knowledge alongside Western science
During that panel, Indigenous participants from Belize, Arizona, Canada, the United States and Panama highlighted a worldview in which values of reciprocity prevail, not only with one another but also between humans and the planet. The earth and animals are viewed not as a “natural resource” to be extracted from but as part of an interconnected web.
In thinking this way, simple solutions arise that can often trump sophisticated technical fixes, explained botanist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
She shared how her ancestors stayed warm in winter because they built a small fire and sat close to it.
Meanwhile, “they observed that the settlers built a really big fire in a big house and sat far away from the fire.” That story still resonates with her today.
Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a member of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, and “250th generation” farmer shared this story, a fitting way to bring the summit to a close:
“We only receive 6 to 10 inches of annual rainfall every year at Hopi. That’s it, but we’re able to raise things like melon, squash, beans (and) corn. When I was at Cornell University, they told me I needed 33 inches of annual rainfall to raise corn, and I said, ‘Man, you guys have got some weak corn here.’ Do you know what makes it come up? It’s our faith, and it’s our belief system that makes that corn come up. It’s not a commodity, folks. It’s life.”