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UCI’s controversial discussion about climate change

UCI held a free, public climate change conference titled, “Fire and Ice: The Shifting Narrative of Climate Change,” on Feb. 8-9 to address a wide range of provocative issues concerning climate change, its planetary scope and how the common person can live sustainably.

“Climate change is something you have to talk about,” UCI Chancellor’s Professor of History and event coordinator Jeffrey Wasserstrom said. “Issues like melting glaciers and rising sea levels are both dramatically changing the natural world and having profound cultural and human effects.”

Hosted jointly by UCI’s Forum for the Academy and the Public, UCI School of Humanities, UCI Law and UCI Illuminations, the conference featured climate activists, distinguished writers and a panel of speakers dedicated to working for the health and future of the Earth.

Notable activists included former staff writer for “The New Yorker” Bill McKibben, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Sixth Extinction” Elizabeth Kolbert and Nathaniel Rich, a writer-at-large for “The New York Times” who dedicated an entire page to the urgency of climate change.

“We’ve entered a very dangerous moment in history,” Rich said. “I’m not only speaking about the climate crisis, but also our country’s political system on which the climate crisis depends. Any responsible citizen must prepare to confront the most brutal defined opposition imaginable. And not all of the opposition will come from the familiar enemies.”

The event also featured a speaker panel, GoGo Industrialization and Climate Change, consisting of climate change ambassadors from China, India, Africa and Burma.

“The goal of this panel is to make people think about the topics surrounding climate change and how they are being discussed, viewed and debated differently depending on different areas on the planet,” Wasserstrom said. “This is especially important in the developing world where it is more unfamiliar to Americans in one way or another even when they recognize the name.”

Following each region’s brief introduction about their present state of combating climate change, the representatives opened the discussion to the public, focusing on questions and comments about climate justice and the current progress of the global issue.

“We’ve really tried to focus on storytelling,” editor of Chinadialogue.net and China representative Isabel Hilton said. “I think telling stories is a way to engage people, their emotions and their imaginations. We really want to appeal to the public by combining interest in facts and interest in narratives. I think this opportunity brings people together in a setting where they have to listen to each other and come away thinking that we are all working towards a common goal that is mitigating climate change.”

While the developing world continues to shift towards industrialization, climate change still stands in the way as a major obstacle of development. As an attempt to offer climate change context and a measure of necessary hope between UCI and the public going forward, the university’s Forum for the Academy and the Public will be looking to discuss a similar scope at their 2020 conference.