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Chinese and American scholars discuss climate change at USC

By Elias Kamal Jabbe, Founding Editor of

LOS ANGELES - College students and professors from the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China gathered to discuss global climate change and the impact their nation’s actions have on the environment at the University of Southern California (USC) on October 17 2012. The ‘Road to the White House’ panel took place less than 24 hours after the second debate between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. That debate-like their political campaigns as a whole-focused on America’s recovering economy and job market, while mostly overlooking other important issues such as education and the environment.

After an introductory speech from USC Bedrosian Center Director Dr. Raphael Bostic which pointed out how global climate change was a “non-issue” for the aforementioned campaigns, USC professors from China and the US discussed the past, present and future of the environment.

Chinese and American scholars discuss their nation’s roles in global climate change at USC

Environmental studies professor Dr. Juliana Wang, a graduate of both the Beijing Foreign Studies University and Yale University, contributed a global perspective to the panel through her multifaceted review of climate change and the policies created to address it.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body of scientists that was started in 1988 at the initiation of the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to really look into what is going on with our climate. The IPCC (has created four assessment reports and) is now working on its fifth report, which is due in May 2013 and has a draft available online (until November 30 2012),” said Dr. Wang, who previously served as a consultant to the World Bank and currently teaches a course on water and energy management in China at USC.

Chinese and American scholars discuss their nation’s roles in global climate change at USC

“Some of the effects (of global climate change) that we've observed so far this year include the sea ice in the Arctic reaching a new low: with temperatures rising, ocean currents are going to be affected and many low-lying island countries will be most vulnerable to this effect.”

Regional response

Adding balance to Dr. Wang’s comprehensive international focus was the California-centric analysis of Dr. Dan Mazmanian, a director at the USC Center for Sustainable Cities who serves on the Task Force on Environmental Governance to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development.

“The (climate) models that Juliana mentioned are global, but they are also being scaled down to a regional level. The models that look at the Western region of the United States suggest that there will be significant changes in precipitation in California: up to 80 percent less snowfall in the High Sierra than we have today by the end of the century. That’s a projection, but that will have a dramatic effect on the availability of water to Californians because we currently get 25 percent of our usable water off the (High Sierra) snowpack,” said Dr. Mazmanian, who added that the sea level on California’s Pacific Coast is projected to rise to six feet by the end of the century.

The aforementioned expected environmental dilemmas have caused climatologists to become very concerned, but Dr. Mazmanian added that decision-makers within the state have made strategic decisions which make a safer future possible for Californians and could inspire the entire US.

“California has responded. In fact, many researchers both in the state and around the globe see California as leading the US in promulgating a strategy of climate change policy. That policy is intended to substantially reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions coming from a way that encourages the coordination (of similar initiatives) across the Western states and sets a template for what the US might be doing in terms of its response to climate change,” said Dr. Mazmanian of changes that have significant environmental, economical and political implications.

“All of this (reform) was dramatically underscored by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006—signed by our former (Republican) Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and our Democratic State Legislature—the first state-level statute in the US calling for a comprehensive response to greenhouse emissions.”

Different directions

Though California’s political decision-makers showed the ability to find bipartisan compromise while addressing the future of the state’s climate, the US as a whole could be going in two different directions based on who wins the 2012 presidential election. The Obama administration is determined to move away from traditional fossil fuels and already invested $90 billion in clean energy: a decision which led to varying results. On the other hand, Governor Romney said he plans to revive the coal industry, which has shrunk in recent years in the midst of the global green movement.

Charles Epting, an undergraduate student studying geology and environmental studies, served on the panel as a representative of the student organization USC College Republicans and said he thought both presidential candidates were avoiding blatant discussion of the term ‘global warming’ for a reason.

“I think the candidates know that people are tired of hearing about climate change openly, so they’re starting to hide it and talk about it under the auspices of alternative energy under cap and trade,” said Epting.

His fellow panelist representing the USC College Democrats, undergraduate international relations and economics student Alexander Blow, said that global leaders should lessen their carbon footprint and heed scientific research.

“We (Americans) are the ones, along with other major industrialized countries like India and China, that are creating the problem. I think it’s pretty clear to the scientific community that there is a problem. And it’s not us who are going to see the consequences of it: it’s going to be the smaller developing countries.”

Green government

Towards the end of the panel, Dr. Wang provided an update revolving around what her country’s policymakers were doing to create a more sustainable future.

“Every five years, the central planners (of the Chinese government) put out a five-year plan. Climate change has actually entered the (current) five-year plan of the government. China’s government is also investing a lot in research and development in strategic sectors, such as solar. China is growing so rapidly right now, and the government’s official commitment is reducing carbon intensity...not absolute emissions.”

The panel’s ultimate message was one revolving around the need for countries around the world to continue analyzing their own impact on the environment and investing in research at a time when natural disasters happen more frequently than they did before climate change began.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty, especially in regards to the low-probability, but high impact, extreme weather events. There is a lot of need to continue with scientific research and climate modeling...(in order) to accurately predict what will happen,” said Dr. Wang.

“This will better inform our policy decisions and our actions.”

Complete video footage of this event provided courtesy of Chris Guanzon of the Bedrosian Center at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Elias Kamal Jabbe is a Los Angeles-based journalist and PR Specialist and the Founder of Multicultural Matters, an online news publication which promotes cultural discovery, sustainability and entrepreneurship. Feel free to connect with Elias via LinkedIn or

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