October 23, 2019

Environmental Forum, Sustainable Princeton Fight Climate Change

By Donald Gilpin

“It’s Getting Hot Out There…Weird Weather and Other Climate Change Anomalies” is the title of a panel discussion at the upcoming Princeton Environmental Forum, and as the planet seems to be heating up rapidly, environmental action is intensifying on both sides of Nassau Street.

The Forum, beginning this Thursday, October 24 at 4:30 p.m. and continuing through the day on October 25 at Alexander Hall’s Richardson Auditorium, will feature an array of more than 40 speakers and seven different panels, including mostly Princeton University faculty leaders and alumni who are making significant contributions in the environmental field.

The Forum, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), will open with remarks from Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, followed by a panel discussion focused on major environmental challenges we currently face, according to PEI Director and Professor of Environmental Studies and Civil and Environmental Engineering Michael Celia.

Friday’s conference will include panel discussions on climate change (its impacts and possible solutions), biodiversity, water, the role of environmental humanities, and a concluding session on how to break the current logjams which prevent meaningful action both nationally and locally.

Andrew Winston, a 1991 Princeton University graduate and noted speaker and author on the topic of sustainable businesses, will deliver the lunch keynote address Friday on “Megatrends and the Big Pivot: Doing Business in a Hotter, Scarcer, More Open and Connected World.”

Celia noted that the different panels represent key environmental issues that also correspond to major areas of strength in Princeton University’s program. “We are building significant strength in the environmental humanities,” he wrote in an email, “so we decided to make this an explicit topic of one of the panels, even though most of the panels will include both social science and humanities elements.”

He continued, “We decided to highlight our efforts in the humanities to emphasize the point that complex environmental
challenges require a multi-disciplinary approach to development meaningful solutions, and the humanities must play a major role in those solutions.”

Celia emphasized that the PEI “looks forward to welcoming all of our neighbors, both on and off the campus, to share this celebration with us and to learn more about PEI’s activities and accomplishments.” The event is free and open to the public with registration on site or online at https://environment.princeton.edu/pei25/

Sustainable Princeton

Meanwhile, Sustainable Princeton (SP) has been working with the local community in the implementation of the Princeton Climate Action Plan (CAP). The SP leaders commented on the Environmental Forum. “As it pertains to us on a local level, we’re particularly interested in attending the ‘Getting the Solutions Right’ and ‘Breaking the Logjam: The Way Forward’ panels at the Forum,” they wrote in an email. “Hopefully these sessions will provide practical advice that we can help implement here locally.”

SP Executive Director Molly Jones, Program Director Christine Symington, Community Outreach Manager Jenny Ludmer, and Marketing Communications Consultant Ellen Malavsky noted the “wonderful opportunity [at the Forum] to hear from those truly on the front line of these global concerns,” and went on to comment as a team on recent progress they have seen locally.

The SP leaders pointed out significant headway on sustainable initiatives and particularly in people’s thinking on environmental issues. “We are seeing progress and a shift of mindset by key decision makers,” they said. “Sustainable approaches are moving from a ‘nice to have’ concept to the realization that if we are going to leave a habitable planet for future generations, our approach must change.”

They cited considerable discussion at last week’s meeting on parking about incentivizing more sustainable behaviors such as biking and car sharing. “It is encouraging that this type of community conversation is moving beyond the current state of things to think forward about how things should be,” they added.

Currently, 16 strategies from the CAP are underway, with a particular focus on reducing emissions, including approaches to receiving more residential energy from renewable sources and promoting the development of large-scale solar energy usage.

“We’ve also been working with the municipality’s emergency services team to think ahead and better prepare for climate crises, specifically working to identify community members who are the most vulnerable during these emergencies,” they wrote.

During the past month SP has participated in a number of events, including Shredtember Fest, where community members dropped off their styrofoam, allowing the town to keep 1,100 cubic feet of styrofoam from the landfill. The Senior Center’s flu clinic provided an opportunity to share information about Comfort Partners, one of the state’s programs for home energy efficiency upgrades. Princeton University’s Community and Staff Day, John Witherspoon Middle School’s Super Saturday, and the municipality’s Welcome Week all afforded chances for SP to provide guidance on what residents can do to reduce their emissions footprint.

On November 12 at 7 p.m. in the Princeton Public Library, SP will present the first of four seminars open to the public introducing “actionable ways to reduce the footprint of our daily lives,” according to the SP bulletin. “Whether you rent or own, there are things you can do to lighten your home’s load on our warming planet.”