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The politics of climate change

For years, sci­en­tists, politi­cians, and other stake­holders have debated the exis­tence of cli­mate change and its impact on the envi­ron­ment. But the dev­as­tating impact of Hur­ri­cane Sandy appears to have been a tip­ping point in the national conversation.

“Now, cli­mate change is on the radar screen,” said Joan Fitzgerald, the interim dean of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. “The debate isn’t whether or not cli­mate change is happening—it is—but where you put your policy emphasis and where you spend your money.”

Joan Fitzgerald, interim dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs

Fitzgerald and North­eastern pro­fessor Matthias Ruth of the Col­lege of Engi­neering and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties are co-​​teaching this spring’s Open Class­room series, “Cli­mate Change. Chal­lenges. Solutions.”

The course—which will be free and open to the public and take an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary look at cli­mate change—will run from Jan. 9 to April 17 and will be held on Wednes­days from 6 to 8 p.m. in West Vil­lage F. A variety of dis­tin­guished speakers from both the uni­ver­sity and across the nation will join the weekly discussions.

“Given the fact that some people are still debating whether cli­mate change is hap­pening or not, it’s impor­tant to take stock of the cur­rent sci­ence and research, then show­case all the things that we know and what we can do about it,” said Ruth, the co-​​editor of a new journal, Urban Cli­mate. “It’s a great oppor­tu­nity for us to engage the public and engage other researchers around this issue.”

Fitzgerald, whose book Emerald Cities: Urban Sus­tain­ability and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment addresses cli­mate change in Amer­ican cities, noted that the series would begin with a dis­cus­sion that frames the issue from both a sci­en­tific and eth­ical stand­point. As the semester pro­gresses, the focus will turn to mit­i­gating the effects of cli­mate change and redesigning land­scapes and urban areas to pre­vent future harm to the planet while also preparing for the irre­versible con­se­quences of changing weather patterns.

Matthias Ruth, a pro­fessor with appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties and the Col­lege of Engineering

“We want to put the issues we dis­cuss in a broad policy con­text so we can empower people to do things dif­fer­ently in upcoming elec­tions or in their everyday life,” Ruth explained.

Dou­glas Foy, the former pres­i­dent of the Con­ser­va­tion Law Foun­da­tion and a promi­nent advo­cate for cli­mate change, will lead sev­eral of the semester’s ses­sions. He served in former Mass­a­chu­setts Gov. Mitt Romney’s guber­na­to­rial admin­is­tra­tion as the state’s first sec­re­tary of com­mon­wealth devel­op­ment, over­seeing the state’s trans­porta­tion, housing, energy, and envi­ron­mental agencies.

“We’re really delighted to have Doug involved in this,” Fitzgerald said. “He’ll be a big asset to our weekly dis­cus­sions, com­ple­menting the public speakers we’re bringing in.”

– by Matt Collette

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