Sen. Chris Coons encourages conversation, partnership on climate change in Notre Dame Forum lecture
Alysa Guffey | Monday, September 13, 2021
As part of the 2021 Notre Dame Forum “Care for Our Common Home,” University President Fr. John Jenkins welcomed NBC chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons to campus for a “fireside chat” on the transition to a sustainable future, entitled “Call to Action: Crossing the Political Divide to Address Climate Challenges.”
To open up the discussion on the future of the environment, Jenkins announced that the University would be a carbon-neutral campus by the year 2050. He thanked leaders from the University and locally who have contributed to this goal while extending the goal to the international community.
“What we can accomplish locally can also be accomplished globally through commitment, collaboration and planning,” Jenkins said.
Thompson then began the conversation with Sen. Coons by speaking on recent climate events that have dramatically impacted thousands of people across America, including Hurricane Ida, a category four hurricane that hit Louisiana this past week and led to substantial flooding in the Northeast United States, the wildfires in Southern California this past summer and a midsummer heatwave in the Pacific Northwest.
“This forum could not be more timely after the week that climate change hit home in America,” Thompson said.
When asked by Thompson if the political will has changed surrounding climate change, Sen. Coons explained that the conversation in the political world is changing rapidly but not enough to keep up with the rate at which climate change is accelerating.
“The challenge is that it may not be changing fast enough,” he said. “Technology has progressed dramatically. The cost of solar and wind and other renewable energies to a point where it’s now directly competitive with coal and oil.”
Sen. Coons, a democrat, became a senator in 2010 when he filled the Delaware seat previously held by Joe Biden. Sen. Coons currently serves as the co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus where he has worked closely with republican Sen. Mike Braun from Southern Indiana.
Coons said he first heard of Braun while helping his friend, former Senator Joe Donnelly, campaign against Braun, who was challenging Donnelly’s seat. When Braun was elected, Coons said he sat down with him to talk about their backgrounds and interests, which is where a mutual passion for protecting the environment was discovered.
The purpose of the caucus was to unify Congress on the issue of climate change, which Coons acknowledged has been difficult, as many senators do not see eye-to-eye on the issue.
“There was a coalition of colleagues that insisted that climate change is a hoax and it’s not real, but there were also folks in the system that insisted that human activity did not cause climate change, and finally some who see climate change as real,” Coons said.
On his relationship with Braun, Coons emphasized that the pair’s party differences have helped the fight to recognize climate change.
“I thought it was important to have a partner who is every bit as conservative as I am in any way progressive [and] is determined to work together to find a way forward now,” Coons said.
However, in reaching across the aisle and creating the bipartisan committee, Coons said it has been “thrilling” to see how important climate change has become to Congress members. An agriculture climate bill co-sponsored by Braun was passed in July by a 92-8 vote, showing the bipartisan support, Coons said.
Coons went on to say that he sees combating climate change as a way to care for God’s creation while also being mindful of the injustice and inequality in the world.
“We are living through the middle of three crises at the same moment: the global health pandemic, the global refugee crisis and climate change, frankly, which is a reminder of how the inequality of the other two and of how our global interconnectedness is driving so much suffering around the world,” Coons said.
In his role as a U.S. senator, Coons attends various global conferences with representatives of other countries to deal with the topic of climate change. He described being at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and having a conversation with a representative from the Maldives, a small island in the Indian Ocean, as one of the most impactful experiences given that the Maldives has been projected to disappear because of climate change.
“To sit across the table from a small country, that really had nothing to do [with climate change], but where that whole country will cease to exist and its entire population will have to move and to meet with a country whose community is going to have to separate really puts it into context,” Coons said.
Members of the audience were invited to submit questions for Sen. Coons through an online link.
In response to a question on what students can do to combat climate change, Coons said “to be aware of it, take classes and be willing to make changes that show you care.”