Creating Hope for Climate Action

Few challenges facing society are as urgent and universal as the climate crisis, and the Aspen Institute is facilitating climate action by bringing passionate leaders together.

As part of the Aspen Ignites video series, Canary Media’s Alison Takemura interviewed Greg Gershuny, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program, and Nikki DeVignes, director of the Institute’s Future Leaders Climate Initiative about their work.

They described how their program advocates in support of policy reform, what it does to empower young leaders, and what gives them hope for effective climate action.

“Flattening speed bumps” for climate leaders

The Aspen Institute gathers leaders from across the country to discuss issues like permitting reform, critical mineral supplies, and other policy topics with potential impact on the climate. “What we focus on at the Aspen Institute is bringing people together … to build collaboration,” Gershuny says.

If the clean energy transition is a road, we’re trying to flatten out some of the speed bumps.

Change requires community buy-in

As an example of how the Institute supports climate policy, Gershuny spoke about how the Energy and Environment Program is advocating for permitting reform so green energy infrastructure can be built faster. Doing that requires both improved permitting processes and collaboration with the communities where the infrastructure will be built.

“There’s a tension there. We need to build clean energy… but we also have to work with communities and make sure that… they’re involved in the decision,” Gershuny explained.

We move at the speed of trust … Companies and government officials have to work with community leaders to make sure that there’s buy-in.

Supporting young and emerging climate leaders

Young people are at the forefront of climate activism and supporting them and their work is essential for long-lasting climate action.

DeVignes described the Institute’s summit for young leaders, where they connect with experienced mentors and meet with important public officials like Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss climate policy.

Our Future Leaders Climate Initiative is focused on bringing [together] young leaders from around the U.S. as well as the globe. We created the initiative with the intention and the desire of creating a space for young leaders to be empowered [and] equipped.

For young leaders who feel too inexperienced to make a difference, DeVignes has this to say: “You shouldn’t necessarily think about your age … but about the fact that you’re bringing a fresh perspective to some of these challenges that we’ve been tackling for a very long time.”

Young leaders and growing awareness provide hope

When asked what brings hope for finding climate solutions, DeVignes said, “Our future leaders give me a sense of hope. When I think about all of the projects and initiatives they’re working on [and] how, with or without the support of other people, they are advancing the needle forward … that really inspires me and gives me hope that we do have a generation that’s going to get the job done.”

For Gershuny, hope comes from the fact that climate change “is finally in the everyday vocabulary of people across the country.” As a result, “We’re rapidly moving … towards changing the way everybody’s thinking about emissions and decarbonization.”

When I think about all of the projects and initiatives [future leaders] are working on … that really inspires me and gives me hope that we do have a generation that’s going to get the job done.

View the full Aspen Ignites: Climate Collaboration & Leadership conversation

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