Climate change has been a topic of discourse for decades, with many scientists now warning that the issue has reached a tipping point.
The good news is there is still time to make a difference.
If you’ve ever asked what you can do to help address the climate crisis, Matthew Kisner suggests the most impactful approach is to start in your own city.
Kisner says it is critical to focus on climate issues at the local level. The University of South Carolina philosophy professor teaches about climate ethics, a subject he says is personal.
“Climate change is ethically really complicated, but I do not believe that ethics is supposed to be simply theoretical,” Kisner says. “Taking that seriously means not just writing and publishing papers but taking concrete physical action to discharge the duties that you have.”
Now he’s taking action to do just that.
Kisner is directing the first Climate Ready Columbia, a two-day conference featuring a sustainable yard tour and expert panel discussions with conservationists, engineers, elected officials and others, who will speak on the interconnected aspects of the climate change happening right now.
Students enrolled in Kisner’s course on climate justice in Columbia researched policy areas and topics like rising urban heat levels, flooding and public transportation. They investigated how the local community was responding to climate change by getting involved with local activists, non-profit organizations, businesses and municipal government.
Kisner’s students used these local connections to arrange 14 conference panels covering topics including renewable energy, transitioning to electrical vehicles, flooding infrastructure, promoting local green business and more.
Claire Windsor is one of the students who heard about the conference movement through the university’s Office of Sustainability. Windsor, a geography and global studies double-major, has cultivated a large network on and off campus dedicated to fighting climate change, and she says there are certain signs people shouldn’t ignore.
“During the summer, that ‘famously hot’ urban heat should be a signal to people,” Windsor says, “but it’s really only when we face flooding issues that people feel a sense of urgency.”
The effects of disastrous floods, like the one that inundated much of the Columbia area in 2015, are still being felt as impacted communities need years to rebuild and recover.
Windsor says even folks who aren’t necessarily passionate about the environment can appreciate these economic impacts and how climate change affects their own wellbeing and that of their families.
The conference comes as Columbia City Council rededicates its efforts to the pledge former Mayor Stephen Benjamin made in 2017 to have the city use 100 percent renewable energy by 2036.
That effort is something Denise Fairchild knows well. Fairchild is the founder and CEO of Emerald Cities Collaborative, a national nonprofit network of organizations that advocates for green cities and environmental justice and will be the conference’s keynote speaker.
In anticipation of the two-day event, Kisner says now is the perfect time to take stock and figure out what needs to happen locally to achieve Columbia’s sustainability goals.
“The bottom line is that citizens should be more engaged, more involved and more aware,” Kisner says, “and they should come to the conference to find out what that means.”