Climate Change

The Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program: From Ideas to Action

June 20, 2019  • Greg Gershuny

Since 1970, the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program has explored significant challenges with diverse thinkers and doers to co-create a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable society for all.  Building on past success in energy and environmental policy dialogue, over the coming years EEP will concentrate on what might be the single most difficult issue we have ever faced as a civilization – climate change.

Climate change is largely caused by our energy system.  The energy we produce to power the lights in homes, schools, and offices, the gasoline we burn to travel across town and across continents, the materials we create to build the modern world, like steel, concrete, and plastic, and the animals we eat and the machinery we use to farm our land, have for the last century improved our standard of living while simultaneously threatened our very existence.  Changing this system and the tools we’ve come to rely on is even more complicated than landing a person on the moon.

Climate change harms the environment.  The additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere capture heat, warming the planet. Sea ice and glaciers melt and the seas rise.  The warmer air and water strengthen the power of extreme weather like hurricanes, floods, drought, wildfires, and heat waves.  These in turn impact or exacerbate human systems – food, water, and human health.  When communities face shortfalls of clean water or food, or suffer from adverse health impacts, that suffering builds on other existing vulnerabilities.  There is increased poverty and corruption – political instability grows.  These impacts disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in our communities – women and children.  And the impacts are not just in distant places of the world, but right here at home.

The three pillars of the program are mitigation, or the reduction of greenhouse gases and other pollution across the economy, adaptation, or preparing for a changing planet, and building relationships for cooperation, which connect the people and topics necessary to solve this challenge.  Our program works to create and improve the policy, technology, and market mechanisms needed to achieve these goals.

Over the coming year, EEP will continue to grow and evolve.  First, we will expand our opportunity area.  We are already working on climate related policy areas such as decarbonization, water, and food and agriculture, but in the coming year we will begin engaging on topics such as coastal resilience, climate and health, water and equity, as well as expanding opportunities for leadership development.

Second, we will work to diversify our network and develop and promote future leaders through broadening participation.  We will be more inclusive in terms of level of participation, gender, race and ethnicity, and political belief.  Additionally, through the launch in 2020 of the Future Leaders Climate Summit, we will begin to engage with a wider range of future leaders and build new networks.

Lastly, we will take action.  For the last 50 years, EEP’s goal has been primarily to educate and create networks.  While this is valuable, and we will continue to do these things, taking the ideas discussed at convenings and turning them into action is vital. Through working groups, briefings, educational events, and more public sessions, EEP plans to proliferate the ideas discussed in convenings to a broader audience to spark action in the real world.