Conference Program

Thursday, April 24, 2014 

11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m.

Session 1: Psychological Factors and Social Change

A. Decision-Making Challenges
Elke Weber, Jerome A. Chazen Professor of International Business and Earth Institute Professor, Columbia Business School; Member of Advisory Committee, National Academy of Sciences on Human Dimensions in Global Change

How do cognitive and emotional constraints limit our ability to respond effectively to hazards like climate change? From limited processing capacity that tends to direct our attention somewhat myopically to the here and now to limited emotional capacity that often causes us to ignore hazards or to take them off our list of concern prematurely, human decision making departs in many ways from the principles of rational choice. At the same time, people's goals and objectives and the modes available to them to arrive at decisions that affect climate change and other hazards are far richer than typically used in efforts designed to influence their decisions and actions. Communication efforts and policy design and implementation that draw on the full range of human goals and processing modes and tailor interventions to specific audiences promise a greater rate of success than existing efforts.

B. Explaining Climate Change for Informed and Effective Response
Paul C. Stern, scholar, Board on Environmental Change and Society, National Research Council

Climate change can be described or explained in ways that confuse, paralyze, mislead, enlighten, or energize. Individuals' cognitive and affective predispositions and limitations can present significant barriers to understanding and addressing climate change, but this presentation will focus on some factors external to individuals that can also have such effects. Some of these are inherent difficulties of understanding the complex phenomena of climate change. Others arise from the sometimes counterproductive effects of the ways the phenomena have been described and the issues framed by scientists and journalists, still others from efforts to use description as a form of influence by some proponents of action to limit climate change and especially by the climate change denial movement. I will discuss some promising approaches to helping people understand the phenomena and their implications in ways that can facilitate thinking constructively about their responses as consumers and as citizens. Such approaches need to be consistent with the state of knowledge, readily understandable to nonscientists, and heuristic in terms of thinking about the potential benefits and risks of various response strategies.

C. Resistance to Change: A Social Psychological Perspective
John Jost, Professor of Psychology and Politics and Co-Director, Center for Social and Political Behavior, New York University; co-author, “The Mind of the Climate Change Skeptic,” APS Observer, Vol.26, No.4, April 2013

D. Experimental Insights: Testing Climate Change Decisions in the Lab
Jennifer Jacquet, Clinical Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies, New York University

Scholarly activities around climate change began with the natural sciences, spread to policy, then science communication, and now are expanding into human behavior and decision-making. New cooperative experiments have been designed to test reactions to different levels of collective risk, rich-poor scenarios, and how time discounting affects our ability to cooperate in the face of climate change. This talk gives an overview of a few of these experiments, some general findings, and how scientists are looking to improve experimental design in the hopes of learning what might make the sacrifices required to combat climate change easier to achieve.

Moderator: Emanuele Castano, Associate Professor of Psychology; Director of Cognitive, Social, and Developmental Psychology, The New School for Social Research

3:00-5:30 p.m. 

Session 2: The Physical City 

A. Structures of Coastal Resilience
Guy Nordenson, Structural Engineer, New York; Professor of Architecture and Engineering, Princeton University; advisor on MoMA's Rising Currents

Structures of Coastal Resilience (SCR), a Rockefeller Foundation-supported project, is dedicated to studying and proposing resilient designs for urban environments on the North Atlantic coast of the United States. This vanguard project involves substantial contextual, site, and vulnerability analyses in four urban coastal areas: Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island; Jamaica Bay, New York; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Norfolk and Hampton Roads, Virginia. SCR features close collaboration between architects, engineers and scientists working with advanced storm modeling and mapping techniques and designers from Princeton University, the City College of New York, The University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University.

B. Preventing the Worst, Managing the Rest
Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences, Princeton University

The increasing risk to urban infrastructure, settlements, and people along the coast resulting from the rise in mean sea level is a worldwide phenomenon. Cities situated on deltas are particularly at risk, but so are many urban areas with estuarine locations like New York. Risk also increases when the likelihood of changes in tropical cyclone (e.g., hurricane) intensity are taken into account. Using New York as an example, I discuss key principles for managing the risk. The first is to recognize that risk will increase continuously for the foreseeable future and that planning and implementation for improving resilience have long timescales while memories of widely spaced episodes like Hurricane Sandy are short. Momentum behind existing planning efforts needs to be maintained and move rapidly toward implementation.

C. The Ethics of Rebuilding on the Coast
Jerold Kayden, Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design

D. What’s Stopping the Transformation Around Energy?
Steven Cohen, Executive Director, Columbia University’s Earth Institute; Professor in the Practice of Public Affairs, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs

Energy is at the core of the sustainability challenge. Most of the production, transportation, and everyday processes that we depend on daily are energy intensive. We need not only to make these processes more energy efficient but to power them with renewable sources if we are to develop a long-term sustainable economy. Enhanced energy efficiency can help us reduce demand as we reach peak production capacity. However, the growing global population and increased energy use means that increasing energy efficiency will not be enough; we also need to develop renewable energy technologies to meet the growing global demand for energy. The goal of many climate activists has been to raise the costs of fossil fuels to represent their true costs; I prefer instead to work to lower the price of sustainable energy, with the goal of driving fossil fuels from the marketplace.

With government investment in research and development, renewable energy technology can advance enough to become a low-cost alternative to fossil fuel use. We have begun this transition to lower-cost, plentiful renewable energy, but we still have a long way to go. In this paper, I will identify three primary barriers to this transformation: 1) technologies still need advancing; 2) our infrastructure is not set up for distributed generation; and 3) complicated political challenges limit our ability to make the tough choices necessary for long-term energy policies.

I believe smart sustainability policy and management can help us move past these barriers, and I’ll identify a number of actions at the local and federal level that lead us in the right direction—toward a sustainable economy powered by clean energy.

Moderator: Brian McGrath, Dean, School of Constructed Environments, Parsons The New School for Design; Founder and Principal, Urban-Interface, LLC

6:00-7:30 p.m. 


How to Unleash Climate Action: Values, Politics, and the Inevitability of the Clean Energy Future
Frances Beinecke, President, Natural Resources Defense Council

Defusing the threat of climate change is an enormous undertaking. It requires major shifts in the nation’s energy economy, the fossil fuel industry’s influence, and people’s perceptions of danger. NRDC has designed a suite of policies to curb climate change, but policies alone are not enough. We have to generate the political will to put them in place. Based on her experiences at the forefront of the national climate movement, Beinecke will discuss the strategies NRDC and allies are using to build momentum for climate action. These include connecting climate change to people’s daily lives, making it clear that America can—and already is—powering our society with clean energy, generating a groundswell of support in key regions of the country, and flexing more political muscle in Washington. Taken together, these strategies will help people see that the clean energy future is desirable, necessary, and inevitable.

Moderator: Daniel R. Tishman, Chairman and CEO, Tishman Construction; Vice Chairman, AECOM; Chairman of the Board, Natural Resources Defense Council

Friday, April 25, 2014

10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 

Session 4: Money and Politics

A. Politics
Robert Inglis, Executive Director, Energy and Enterprise Initiative; former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

For too long, conservatives have ceded the debate on energy and climate policy to the political left. E&EI’s Bob Inglis will discuss how conservatives can win on these issues and correct the public misconception that conservatives don't care about clean energy and the environment. By applying the principles of free markets, accountability, limited government, and reasonable risk avoidance, conservatives have the policy tools to solve tough energy and climate challenges without growing government. In stark contrast to federal regulations and wasteful government programs, conservative energy policy would deliver better environmental results, drive economic growth, and preserve liberty.

B. Climate Change and Development
Robert O. Mendelsohn, Edwin Weyerhaeuser Davis Professor of Forest Policy; Professor of Economics; Professor, School of Management, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Climate change challenges everyone on the planet to make two changes: reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and adapt to the changing climate. Given these challenges, why have we done so little to date? The mitigation challenge is partially an institutional failure because climate change is a global problem but we have no global government. With greenhouse gases, we share the benefits of mitigation across the planet but we must individually bear the cost. No one wants to take on the costs unless we all do.

But even if we acted together, we must decide to what purpose. What climate do we want? Coming to a common target that we will all agree to reach is a second barrier to moving forward. Depending on how much greenhouse gas emissions we allow, we can choose a wide range of climates for the next century or two. If we do nothing, we will see warming of 3ᵒC by 2100 and as much as 6ᵒC by 2200. A global expenditure of $20 trillion (net present value) can hold climate close to 4ᵒC. Forty trillion dollars can purchase a limit of 3ᵒC if we start right away and use every available method to limit emissions including doubling nuclear power. But if we want 2ᵒC, we must make a much deeper sacrifice and allocate $100 trillion to mitigation, making energy, land, and crops considerably more expensive than they are today. Clearly, the higher the price tag, the harder it is to get agreement from the myriad countries that must make this deep sacrifice.

What are the benefits of these different choices? Allowing climate to warm more than 4ᵒC will likely impose very large damages on society including substantial sea level rise, crop damage, cooling expense, and ecosystem change. So it is quite clear that setting the 4ᵒC target is justifiable. Moving to 3ᵒC would lower these risks but it is not clear whether the benefits of this additional change would exceed the cost. It is very clear that moving further to 2ᵒC is not worth the cost. The additional benefits of choosing 2ᵒC rather than 3ᵒC are quantifiable but small compared to the cost of mitigation. However, until we begin seriously reducing emissions, we remain on the path to 6ᵒC by 2200.

The institutional failures that apply to mitigation do not apply as much to adaptation. Each of us must change our behavior to adapt to the climate change that we cannot stop. Presumably, we will all follow our own best interest and adapt appropriately. What will remain to be done is our shared interest in adapting our ecosystems, coastlines, and public health programs to manage joint threats from storms, sea level rise, and unmitigated climate change. But even here, each town and city, each state and province, and each national government has an incentive to adapt. What then is holding adaptation back? The climate has not changed enough yet to warrant major adaptations. We must wait until the second half of the century to see the changes that are large enough to warrant substantial adaptation. When the climate warms another degree or two, there will be many changes that people will want to make in their lives, that firms and farmers will want to make in their production, and that governments will want to make in how they manage their coastlines, their emergency programs, public health, and their ecosystems.

C. Investing in the Environment
Charlotte Kaiser, Director of Innovative Finance, The Nature Conservancy

With global population estimated to peak around 2050, we must quickly maximize the pace, scale, and effectiveness with which we protect natural systems and the cities and communities that rely on them. And yet we face a critical deficit of capital directed toward conservation. According to one estimate, the cost of conservation—sustainably managing agriculture, forests, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems—is approximately $290 billion per year. Currently, only approximately $35 billion is spent annually on conservation activities. Fundamentally, this deficit results from a systemic misallocation of capital in the global economy. Mainstream capital allocation decisions do not reflect the economics of nature. As a result, global development aid does not address the underlying ecological causes of hunger and poverty—even when a systemic view of solutions would lead to investment in climate change resilience and adaptation. Insurance companies do not invest in mitigating the risk of environmental disasters—even when preventive investment in ecological solutions would save them money in the long term. Infrastructure bankers invest in steel and concrete, not water and land—even when natural solutions may be cheaper and offer greater community benefits.

D. Divesting [and Investing] for the Environment
Christina Leijonhufvud, Managing Partner, Tideline Advisors; former Managing Director of Social Finance, J.P. Morgan

Government and philanthropic capital is clearly insufficient to cover the estimated $1.5 trillion per annum price tag of climate mitigation efforts needed to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Private sector investment capital is critical. With total managed investments set to reach $100 trillion by the next decade, the asset management industry clearly has a significant role to play in financing solutions to both mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. Divestment from fossil fuels is one strategy to repurpose capital – but what kinds of proactive investment options exist in its wake?

The emerging movement of impact investing – investments made with the intention to have positive environmental and social impact as well as financial return – is supporting innovations targeting resource efficiency, clean-economy practices, conservation and urban resilience. Yet, like the divestment movement itself, impact investing faces significant hurdles to becoming mainstream. Among other challenges, limited track record and data on financial returns for environmental investments; absence of a recognized set of standard impact metrics; capital-intensity and riskiness of environmental impact technologies all conspire to support inertia in the capital markets. Institutional investors and intermediaries remain skeptical about whether investments can simultaneously achieve environmental and financial returns. Much work is underway to address these frictions in the impact investment market and a growing number of pioneering private investors are putting their capital to work to demonstrate the viability of investing for environmental and social benefit.

Moderator: Bevis Longstreth, Lawyer; former Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; Member, Board of Trustees of The New School

1:30-4:00 p.m. 

Session 5: Difficult Choices

A. Environmental Justice
Dale Jamieson, Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy, Affiliated Professor of Law, Director of Environmental Studies, New York University; author of Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle to Stop Climate Change Failed and Why Our Choices Still Matter (forthcoming) and Ethics and the Environment: An Introduction (Cambridge, 2008)

The challenge of climate change does not fit into the standard models of decision-making that we get from economics, ethics, or political theory. This talk/paper discusses how.

B. M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) for Our Time?
Russell Hardin, Helen Gould Shepard Professor in the Social Sciences; Professor of Politics, New York University

Social scientists face a daunting task in coming to grips with certain staggering global problems that are affected by the aggregation of ordinary individual behaviors, perhaps millions of them. One individual’s behavior might not be at all problematic if it did not interact with others’ behaviors and if, in the context of daily life, we commonly act as though our own actions do not seriously interact with actions of others.

There are two distinct issues in debate on the iconic case of global warming: 1) gaining knowledge of various aspects of the phenomenon of global warming, especially including accounts of how drastic is our problem; 2) and motivating individuals to change their behaviors to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases and fine atmospheric particulates, that arguably harm us all.

C. Social Justice
Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance

D. Designing Solutions
Claire Weisz, Adjunct Associate Professor of Planning, New York University; Founding Principal, Weisz Yoes; team leader, WXY+West 8 (one of ten international teams invited to participate in Rebuild by Design, a multistage design competition tasked with promoting resilience for the Sandy-affected region)

Moderator: Joel Towers, Executive Dean and Associate Professor of Architecture and Sustainable Design, Parsons The New School for Design

Connect with the New School