The climate debate: FIU convened a diverse group of leading experts to discuss paths forward

March 14, 2024 at 2:00pm

It is in everyone’s best interest to protect the environment. A healthy planet means healthy humans. But what are the best ways to protect the environment? Are countries doing all they can to reverse damage to the planet? And how can we make sure the implications of climate policy don’t impact the livelihoods of people around the world? Therein lies the debate.

To tackle some of the toughest questions regarding environmental resilience, sustainability, practical solutions and the role of government and democracy in this arena, FIU recently hosted a two-day conference bringing together a diverse group of scholars and activists. Speakers included representatives from institutions and organizations such as Stanford, MIT, University of Florida, Southern Methodist University, Emory, FIU, CLEO Institute, Heritage Foundation, Foreign Policy, Miami-Dade County, Competitive Enterprise Institute, SCAPE Landscape Architecture, FEMA, VoLo Foundation, Sierra Club and the Swiss Federation on Small- and Medium-sized Businesses.

One of the goals of FIU’s Environment Forum is to bring diverging viewpoints into dialogue with each other in respectful conversations, allowing audience members to listen to a variety of ideas, experiences and solutions regarding environmental resilience and climate policy.

“This is truly a multidisciplinary conference,” said Mario Loyola, the forum’s organizer, a research assistant professor and director of both the Environmental Finance and Risk Management program of FIU’s Institute of Environment and the Environment, Law and Economics Initiative at the College of Law. “Because there are so many great experts from so many different disciplines, we really get a diversity of views. At a time when people have been describing views they don’t agree with as misinformation, this forum is crucial.”

Mario Loyola, the forum’s organizer, a research assistant professor and director of both the Environmental Finance and Risk Management program of FIU’s Institute of Environment and the Environment, Law and Economics Initiative at the College of Law


The conference’s theme this year revolved around climate tech and coastal resilience, a topic near to the hearts of many Floridians and other citizens of coastal cities. Panel discussions dove into a wide breadth and depth of topics such as AI and environmental data; coastal resilience strategies; science and public choice in climate policy; international climate finance; climate change and hurricanes; and extreme events, among others.

“I thought the discussion was very expert-focused, nuanced, complex and diverse in the sense that people were approaching the environmental and climate issues from different policy points, but everyone came together in an agreeable, open-minded format,” said Mark P. Nevitt, associate professor at Emory University School of Law.

Nevitt was a speaker on the “Green Ammendments: Rights-based Environmentalism” panel, which featured experts from a variety of professional viewpoints (a practicing lawyer, activists and law professors, as well as speakers including Nevitt, who also have military backgrounds); panelists ran the gamut from liberal to center to conservative in terms of climate policy. “It was a real, true diversity of different approaches,” Nevitt said. “I thought this was a very successful forum. I hope that FIU continues to do this and to invite me back.”

The forum’s VoLo Foundation Lecture this year was delivered by Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Demography and Economics of Health and Aging at Stanford University. His talk explored a topic that often lies at the heart of debates about climate change — the interplay between science and free speech.

Another session featured a panel of diverse experts discussing “The Promise and Pitfalls of Climate Policy.” The panel was sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine and FIU’s Office of Public Policy Events, which promotes education and encourages civic engagement by organizing open discussions and debate forums about current public policy issues.

“South Florida is on the front lines, and FIU has the opportunity to help inform climate policy,” said FIU Provost, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth M. Béjar, who helped introduce the panel. She commented on the sense of urgency prompted by FIU’s commitment to environmental resilience research and dialogue. Likewise, she said that now is the time to come together to address these issues. “We need to leave no proverbial stone unturned,” she said. “We need to ask tough questions, questions that have never been asked. We have to be prepared as members of a learning institution. This debate is important in this time, in this moment for FIU and for South Florida [and for the world].”


“The Promise and Pitfalls of Climate Policy” panel, from left to right: Kerry Emanuel, Cecil and Ida Green emeritus professor of atmospheric science at MIT; Susan Glickman, vice president of policy and partnerships at CLEO Institute; Kent Lassman, president and CEO of Competitive Enterprise Institute; and panel moderator Andrew Sollinger, publisher and CEO of Foreign Policy.


During the conversation, panelists discussed a range of topics from the cleanest types of energy to issues with governance and political will to the economic consequences of climate policy. Speakers endorsed a variety of views — one said that governments should unabashedly support the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) goals; another said that 100% renewable energy is not a feasible option and instead advocated for a combination of nuclear and renewable energies; and yet another voiced concerns over the lack of effectiveness of climate pledges to encourage countries, especially big energy producers, to change their ways.

“It was great,” environmental engineering major Karina Hernandez said of the discussion. Hernandez serves on the Sustainability and Innovation Committee of the Student Government Association and is deeply committed to energy efficiency and environmental resilience. “I love the fact that we can host an environment forum like this. These kinds of events are crucial in helping me understand and have a wider picture of the solutions we have in my [engineering] curriculum. I’m learning about science and applied mechanics. This event helped me see more about policy and different issues.”

Hernandez added that FIU’s commitment to environmental resilience energizes her own goals. “Seeing that FIU is committed, investing money to do research and putting students at the forefront of this [issue] and that one of the pillars of the new strategic plan is environmental resilience…I’m inspired more than ever to work in this area.”

“I was refreshed and inspired by the FIU Environment Forum — not just for the current, hard-hitting topics presented, but for the way they were presented,” said Melissa Martin, who volunteers as a campaign coordinator for Florida Right to Clean Water and was a speaker during the forum. “Without hearing all sides of important issues through open and honest debate, especially those going to the heart of our shared values as humans, we are left to the divisions and devices of biased-filled narratives. By airing things out and shining the light on what’s true, we are better able to make good decisions, together, as a society. FIU showed true leadership and professionalism in its planning and execution of the forum, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.”


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