The annual Climate Forward Conference brought together high-profile politicians and individuals to find common ground surrounding the climate crisis at a panel held Tuesday, April 4.
The event saw high-profile guests such as Gina McCarthy, the first ever White House climate advisor and former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, and Bret Stephens, a conservative opinion columnist for the New York Times and editor-in-chief of Sapir. Michigan State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University also held watch parties for the event.
The USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future and Common Ground Committee sponsored the event and hosted two panels discussing the theme of “Bridging Divides, Sharing Solutions.”
Stephens had previously denied climate change but last October, he released a column in the New York Times agreeing to the problem of the climate crisis as he spoke with an oceanographer and witnessed the melting of the ice caps in Greenland.
Stephens said that John Englander, the oceanographer who offered him the trip, spoke to him in a way he hoped more people would.
“He did not approach me as either an imbecile or as a bad guy. He approached me as a guy who wanted to have a conversation with me,” Stephens said. “I think that’s really important when we have conversations across differences.”
The panelists reiterated the importance of finding common ground, as well as how to better communicate effectively about the climate crisis.
McCarthy, who served as administrator of the EPA for four years, discussed this ongoing struggle.
“The problem is that scientists got so excited about climate, and they translate that into the language of science that isn’t easily translatable into how you talk to normal human beings,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also expressed frustration about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s annual report, noting that their pessimistic rhetoric isn’t adding value to conversations about climate change.
“I think it’s great to articulate a problem, but maybe the answer is not just having scientists do papers,” McCarthy said. “It’s got to be folks sitting down and fashioning the solutions, because that’s what’s going to matter.”
Students who attended the event reacted positively to the discussions that took place, despite bringing in individuals with opposing political beliefs.
“I thought this was a fantastic panel,” Junior business administration student Sean McCalla said. “It gave me this feeling of hope and this feeling that the solutions that are required for this issue are a lot closer than they may seem.”
Kris Liu, a doctoral student in the population, health and place program, appreciated USC’s efforts in highlighting the importance of climate change and solutions.
“I would say USC is probably one of the best universities I’ve been to when talking about sustainability,” Liu said.
Stephens and McCarthy also discussed the role the economy will play in seeking climate solutions moving forward.
As the White House’s national climate advisor from 2021 to 2022, McCarthy touched on her team’s reframing of the climate crisis into one of economic opportunity and investment. She added that legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act were evidence of climate solutions directly impacting economic growth as well.
“[Those] were an investment in rebuilding the United States in a way that would grow jobs, in a way that would advance equity and in a way that would make us much more resilient to the challenges of climate,” McCarthy said.
Stephens added that while the work of the EPA and climate scientists are hugely valuable, these improvements will have to begin elsewhere.
“[Solutions are] going to come from entrepreneurs who are probably in this room right now who are thinking about how they put their environmental passions together with their entrepreneurial abilities and find something nobody has thought of before,” Stephens said. “That’s how we usually get out of our jams in the 21st century.”
The event ended with panelists McCarthy and Stephens emphasizing their hope for the future in regards to the climate crisis.
“We’ve been fighting in the trenches for 30 years, trying to get answers to the world’s most challenging problem,” McCarthy said. “And I think we have solutions now that we’ve never had before. I’m confident that we can land those solutions and advance them, and there’ll be more to follow.”