Schwarzenegger, students take part in Vienna conference
USC Price School of Public Policy students recently participated via a live webcast in the R20 Global Conference on Renewable Energy and Climate in Vienna.
A distinguished panel, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s former governor and chairman of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, discussed environmental challenges with more than 1,000 students in the audience, and thousands more online from around the world.
Schwarzenegger is founding chair of R20 Regions of Climate Action, a nonprofit, public-private partnership of sub-national governments, businesses, academic institutions and nongovernmental organizations established in cooperation with the United Nations.
Hosted by the Austrian National Library and presented by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, as well as the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, the discussion focused on the need for people at grassroots levels to transcend politics and lead efforts that promote carbon emissions reductions, transform the global energy mix in a sustainable way and empower the planet’s 1.5 billion people who lack access to adequate, healthy energy resources.
Students from 92 worldwide universities, academies and schools registered for the event, which streamed live on the USC Price website.
Joining Schwarzenegger on stage were Kamdeh Yumkella, director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and member of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute’s Board of Advisers, and Karlheinz Töchterle, Austria’s minister of science and research. The panelists fielded questions from moderator Ingrid Thurner of the Austrian Broadcasting Corp., as well as students, both present and connected through the Internet.
From Los Angeles, USC student Joe Edwards, president of USC Price’s Graduate Policy Administration Community, questioned the panel on the long-term prospects of the private sector embracing the environmental cause.
In response, Schwarzenegger focused on themes relating to better education, communication and inclusiveness that emerged frequently during the event.
He highlighted stakeholder partnerships during his governorship that resulted in the crafting of sound, practical laws that make California 40 percent more energy-efficient than the rest of the United States. As an example, he cited the common-sense measures undertaken at the Port of Los Angeles that have substantially reduced air pollution, leading to reduced incidences of cancer-related illness in that area.
Discussing public and private stakeholders coming together to combat global warming, climate change and pollution-related illness, Schwarzenegger repeatedly underscored the need to support national and international efforts yet not wait for them to bear fruit.
“We must be aggressive on our own and move forward … because it is saddening when you see the amount of people who die every year because of pollution-related illnesses,” he said. “We can do better as human beings.”
UNIDO Director-General Yumkella echoed the sentiment, stressing the impact on the world’s energy have-nots in developing countries.
“Carbon dioxide has no passport. You release it; it affects other people. And the injustice is that the poor pay the biggest price” in the form of droughts, reduced crop yields, disease and pollution from the indoor use of charcoal and firewood for cooking, he said. As a result, energy and its access link directly to food security, water security and sanitation issues.
“Energy is the ultimate enabler,” Yumkella said.
Schwarzenegger explained two parallel, complementary approaches that dovetail with the organizations he has assisted since leaving the governor’s office.
First, in keeping with R20’s mission, Schwarzenegger urged individuals to seize the initiative at local, city, provincial, regional and sub-national levels. In doing so, he invoked human struggles of the past century, including the civil rights and suffrage movements in the United States, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the independence movement in India.
“You take charge,” he said. “Don’t wait for the capitals because no great movement ever came from a capital.”
The second approach involves the migration of a majority to “post-partisan” ground where people are not put into ideological boxes — a cornerstone principle of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute launched last September.
“I think the most important thing is, first of all, that we don’t see this as a political issue,” Schwarzenegger emphasized.
He reminded participants that in the politically polarized United States, there is no Democratic air, water, schools and roads or Republican air, water, schools and roads — just people who want solutions to problems. And young people are the key, he said.
“This is why,” Schwarzenegger continued, “I … created the Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California because I think it’s so important for me to reach out to students. The students are the leaders of the future. You are the most important thing for us. You are going to lead this world.”
His message circled back to opening remarks by Bonnie Reiss, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute’s global director, who told attendees that the institute’s namesake is extending his public service through a university precisely because of students.
Indeed, after the event, USC Price student Edwards came away impressed.
“It is always refreshing to see political leaders speak about something they are passionate about,” he said. “Partnerships, as opposed to one-way lecturing, are not just a part of the solution but the key to the solution, and the governor understands that.”