State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Training for Sustainability Practitioners: ESP Midterm Briefings

MPA ESP student Zhuo Hao Kevin Cheng presenting at Mid Term Briefings
MPA ESP student Zhuo Hao Kevin Cheng presenting at the midterm briefings.

Students from Columbia University’s Environmental Science and Policy program presented analysis of congressional legislation that is currently on the House or Senate floor as part of their summer Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management course.

Students were thus far tasked with analyzing and communicating the environmental science of the problems that these bills seek to address.

The workshop course emphasizes group communication and practical skill-building, while challenging students to analyze scientific issues in current legislation and to communicate the science to non-scientists. This work prepares students to explain science, in a practical way, to decision makers. The class is divided into five groups, replicating sustainability consultant project teams, each led by a different faculty advisor.

The first student presenter, McKenzie Schwartz, represented Professor Louise Rosen’s workshop group, which is working on for H.R. 4393 – Clean Distributed Energy Grid Integration Act. McKenzie discussed the current grid structure in the United States, detailing the inefficiencies inherent in centralized grid systems compared with the benefits of distributed grids. The presentation emphasized the need for clean energy and a reduction in carbon intensive fuel use.

Jayson VanBeusichem spoke on behalf of Professor Howard Apsan’s group, which is examining H.R. 2227 – Strengthening the Resiliency of Our Nation on the Ground (STRONG) Act. Jayson described the trends of increasing severity and frequency of events such as droughts, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. He highlighted the loss of life and multi-billion-dollar financial costs associated with these extreme weather events.

Lisa Kubotera, whose team is advised by Professor Robert Cook, presented an analysis of H.R. 2804/ S 1601 – Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment (SAFE) Act. Lisa described how climate change is affecting the ability of wildlife to adapt to changes in the environment. She cited ocean acidification, temperature change and sea level rise, along with an interesting case study regarding loggerhead sea turtles.

Allison Pace delivered a presentation on H.R. 3707 – Groundwork USA Trust Act 2015 on behalf of her team, which is advised by Professor Matthew Palmer. Allison’s presentation covered brownfield sites that are potentially hazardous locations because of chemical, biological or physical contamination. The presentation touched on risks to the surrounding environment, human health implications and negative socio-economic impacts.

Kevin Cheng was the final presenter of the day for the group analyzing S. 2588 – Get the Lead Out Act of 2016 with guidance from Professor Steven Cohen. Kevin’s presentation detailed the ways that lead enters our drinking water. Lead’s health impacts on adults and children were also discussed, and Kevin noted that there is no safe level of lead.

The semester will culminate in a Summer Workshop Final Briefing on Aug. 10 detailing each bill’s potential as a solution to their respective environmental issues.

The workshop briefings are a great opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with real life issues that these bills aim to combat. In the fall semester, students work to craft a viable implementation plan in the event that their bill is enacted into law. This process requires detailed planning, and financial and economic evaluation. In the spring semester, students work on projects for real government or nonprofit clients. The workshop accounts for an integral part of ESP students’ success after graduation, as they have practiced the skills that are necessary to be effective sustainability professionals.

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Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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