U.S. Senator Chris Coons Calls Students to Action on Environmental Issues

Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. kicked off this year’s Notre Dame Forum, entitled “Care for Our Common Home: Just Transition to a Sustainable Future,” with a fireside chat on climate change. The event featured Anne Thompson, a Notre Dame alumna, trustee, and chief environmental correspondent for NBC News, and Chris Coons, who is a Democratic Senator from Delaware, co-chair of the climate caucus, and a Notre Dame parent.

Fr. Jenkins described the Notre Dame Forum as a means to “examine some important questions of the day, and how the university through scholarship and research, as well as political and social involvement, might help to resolve them.” In recent years, the forum has covered issues such as the 2020 election and the sexual abuse crisis and response within the Church. The first event for this year’s forum on climate change was held Friday, September 12 in Washington Hall, and presented a uniform narrative on the state of the climate, Coons’ environmental policy, and a moral imperative to address climate change.

Before turning the stage over to the presenters, Father Jenkins began the event with remarks about Notre Dame’s commitment to combating climate change. He told the audience: “I’m really pleased to tell you that Notre Dame is on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050. The use of geothermal, large-scale thermal arrays, hydroelectricity, recovered energy, conservation, and other emerging technologies and fuel sources will, I believe, get us to a 5% reduction in CO2 by 2030 and net-neutral carbon emissions twenty years later.”

He indicated that carbon neutrality can be accomplished globally, as well. Recently, Fr. Jenkins served as co-chair for the Vatican’s dialogue on energy transition in the third of a series of conferences on climate hosted by Pope Francis. Attendees of these conferences include CEOs of leading energy companies and the global investment community. Fr. Jenkins reflected, “Our focus was on a just transition to a better future. We discussed how to help those who work in the fossil fuel industry, whose jobs will be displaced by clean energy, and how to provide for poor nations who will be asked to keep their fossil fuel wealth in the ground for the sake of a greener planet.”

The forum’s formal discussion began with Thompson’s description of what she called “the week that climate change hit home in America,” emphasizing the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Ida, the fires causing destruction and evacuation in California, widespread drought, and the grief in the pacific northwest over a catastrophic midsummer heatwave. Coons echoed Thompson’s sense of urgency throughout the event. He remarked on the convergence of three crises: a global pandemic, a refugee crisis, and climate change. Coons reflected that he has seen how “climate change is driving migration, poverty, loss of life, loss of opportunity,” stating,  ​“We have to scale everything we can come up with as quickly as we can, or we are leaving to our children a planet on fire.”

When asked if there was a moral imperative to address climate change, Coons answered with a resounding yes, stating, “If you believe that we inhabit creation and that we are here as stewards and we have a purpose and that a core part of that purpose is to be mindful of inequality and injustice and to be attentive to the needs of the widow and the orphan, the refugee, the isolated, the lonely, and the lost … you can’t possibly ignore the crises that are ravaging our world right now … We have to hear a call toward a just transition, I think, if we are to be faithful to what Jesus called of those who follow him to do, in terms of our lives.”

Finally, Coons shared his views on viable climate policy solutions, indicating that while he believes bipartisan progress has been made, political will is not keeping pace with the climate. Coons told the audience, “I think market solutions are more effective,” and pointed to technological progress in clean energy, stating that the cost of renewable energy has fallen “to a point where it is directly competitive with oil, and coal, and gas.” Coons stated, “I don’t think we would be where we are if there weren’t millions of people, of all ages and backgrounds, who were willing to take a chance on a president…who sees climate change as a real problem and an opportunity to create jobs for the future.”

Coons concluded the discussion by urging students to change their lifestyles, to “research, serve, and engage,” and to “push [their] parents and [their] grandparents hard” on the subject of climate change. In his closing remarks, Fr. Jenkins thanked the guests and announced the planting of two trees on campus in honor of Thompson and Coons. Upcoming forum events include panel discussions, an electric vehicle expo, tours of the university’s future hydroelectric plant, and the presentation of a piece by Yinka Shonibare at the Snite Museum of Art.

Bridget is a sophomore from South Bend, Indiana studying Economics and Applied Computational Mathematics and Statistics. She can be found reading, playing euchre, and losing games of online chess. Write to her at bstockra@nd.edu.

Photo credit: Senator Chris Coons answers questions from the audience at a Brookings Institution event on September 20th, 2018. Paul Morigi / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License