Folt, USC professors discuss sustainability on Earth Day

Recent stay-at-home orders prove that behavioral changes have positive effects on environment.

USC President Carol Folt and other faculty discussed challenges and solutions for sustainability to mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. Seeing how stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic have positively affected the environment, experts believe behavioral changes are a possible solution to combat climate change.

Folt spoke about what the university is doing to combat climate change in the online address on April 22.

“The problem of climate change is an existential threat that will take an unprecedented level of coordination and teamwork and innovation,” Folt said in the video.

Part of fighting climate change on campus is being sustainable with how the university handles waste, Folt said. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Trojans play football, is a zero waste stadium. The same goal will be followed by the Galen Center and USC Hotel.

Academically, USC is taking an interdisciplinary approach, as public health and climate issues are interconnected fields, Folt said.

“As we look to build on the progress in the areas we’ve been making like carbon neutrality, encouraging sustainable education and waste reduction, we will learn the lessons of today and apply them in the future,” Folt said.

Behavioral, policy and cultural changes are the three solutions Professor Daniel Mazmanian from the USC Price School of Public Policy proposed as the most effective tools to combat climate change. Given the complexity of science, Mazmanian advised providing clear messages to the people.

Wandi Bruine de Bruin, provost professor of public policy, psychology and behavioral science, said that more than three-quarters of Americans are witnessing climate change impacting their local communities.

“A lot of people are recognizing that climate change is important,” she said. “People are ready to act.”

Most people do not know the most effective way to reduce environmental damages, Bruin added. For example, she said it is more eco-friendly to reduce the usage of air conditioning than to fight over who forgot to turn off the lights.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that individuals are willing to change their habits for the betterment of the rest of society, Bruin added. Despite people’s willingness to change, she said consistent behavioral changes can be financially challenging and difficult to maintain over a long period of time.

“[We] have to understand what the challenges are and what people want if you want to help them with behavior change,” she said.

Bruin expressed optimism when comparing climate change efforts 50 years ago and now. She said companies have a new understanding of sustainability and they are realizing sustainable policies are good for business.

Gale Sinatra, a professor of education, also shared the optimism moving into the future. Since the coronavirus pandemic has kept many people at home, air pollution in California has dropped.

“That’s an indication that we can make a difference in our individual and collective actions,” she said. “We do have the ability to act collectively and to do some very important structural changes.”

Fifty years ago, Mazmanian said there was a “bad guy" and a "good guy” in climate change. Today, he said there is no bad guy or good guy, and everyone is in the fight together.