“The struggle to combat climate change, it’s a very international issue that requires a lot of cooperation,” says Adam Holliday ’19. “There are a lot of countries with different agendas that are on different pages. They have different technologies, different backgrounds, so it’s really all finding a way to come together to solve this giant issue that affects everybody.”

Holliday was one of the nine hand-selected, predominantly economics majors that Professor Mark Smith took to Katowice, Poland, for the COP24 — the informal name for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “The main objective of the Polish Presidency at COP24,” explains the COP’s website, “is to adopt a decision ensuring full implementation of the Paris Agreement.”

Smith’s class spent two weeks during Block 4 in December 2018 at the conference and got to see the world wade through the process of coming together on climate change firsthand. 

“Mark really wanted students who were going to fully engage, because he went through a lot of effort to get the badges to go to the COP,” says Holliday of the application process the student attendees had to go through. “That’s not something that they just give out. So he really had to pull strings and knock on doors to get us in a position where we could go and he just wanted to be sure that we were the type of students that would take advantage of that opportunity.”

And take advantage they did. Each student was tasked with writing a paper on a pre-chosen topic for the COP24 and a community project. They met once a week during Blocks 1-3 to prepare for the intensely mental and emotional experience of showing up for 12-hour days packed with events and negotiations in cold, “sad,” and soot-soaked Katowice.

Most of them already plan on a life working toward sustainability, be it through construction, water management, or climate economics. Beau Burns ’19 says, “I really do think it’s the most pressing issue of our time.”

“I’m interested in water markets,” Burns adds, but not everyone in Katowice was. “Water markets and pricing mechanisms and these economic terms for how to manage the scarce resource was met with a lot of … I wouldn’t call it aggression, but that was maybe perceived as evil … they were talking about the Cape Town water crisis and I would ask a question. ‘Well was there a pricing mechanism? Have they thought about markets as the solution?’ And that was perceived poorly. People think you’re talking about privatizing access to water.”

Paige Shetty ’19 is currently a greenhouse gas inventory intern at CC, helping track the way to the college’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2020. “I want to be working toward climate change solutions and sustainable society through an economics and a capital market lens,” she says. For her, attending COP24 gave her an appreciation for learning about the differences across the world and how others experience climate change.

“Just hearing from different people who are from an entirely different part of the world than I am, and facing so many different types of adversity from climate change than I could imagine having with my life here,” she says. “It was really eye-opening, and I think it got me a lot more engaged in the topic that I was looking at, and just what my role would be in finding solutions for climate change.”

The focus for Riley Hutchings ’19 is on indigenous peoples. She says of COP24, “The most moving part was that I went to a lot of panels by indigenous speakers. And one of them talked about how the way the climate regime and the UNFCCC had approached climate change is kind of like paralleling the colonial mindset that people took when they committed genocide upon indigenous peoples in the U.S.

“So, for example, there’s a program called REDD+ and reducing emissions from forest degradation. And it essentially puts a price on a unit of forest, and … if you do that, if you monetize a forest, then you’re just breaking the relationship with the land, which is exactly what causes climate change in the first place.”

Still, Hutchings’ resolve has been firmed since the experience. “I think there’s still reason to fight it as hard as we can even if there isn’t going to be a crazy amount of change.”

Holliday, who also served as the group’s photographer, followed fellow students to their side events. “They had some really interesting events on sustainable construction, and it was amazing to see all of this technology that exists and is being used. Some of it, I didn’t even think it was possible that that was already in existence. There was one example, in Norway specifically, how they already had a zero emission construction site, where they were building a large structure, and all of the equipment that they were using was electric.”

Also in attendance were Provost Alan Townsend, Sustainability Director Ian Johnson, Board of Trustees members Marc St John ’80 and Kishen Mangat ’96 — and President Jill Tiefenthaler, whose presence made a big impression on students and alumni alike of how important combating climate change is to CC.

St John, currently secretary of the CC Board of Trustees, raised his hand at a meeting when asked who would like to attend COP24 with the students. St John is from Colorado but resides in England.

“I think this generation has handed a pretty lethal cocktail to the next generation… I really think there’s a responsibility for our generation to try to do something. I mean, we’ve already kind of ruined it. It’s really up to our children.”

Calling CC Tigers: A Request and an Opportunity

The request: Professor of Economics Mark Smith is seeking to identify those with CC connections who are working in the climate change/renewable energy/sustainability arena. Please contact him at msmith@coloradocollege.edu to let him know of your work and area of interest. He will invite you to join the Climate Change Professionals group within Tiger Link, CC’s professional networking platform.

The opportunity: CC is now an accredited observer organization with the UNFCCC. Last year, three alumni joined the CC delegation at COP24. This year COP25 is Dec. 3-13 in Santiago, Chile. Smith has the ability to obtain a badge for a similar number of alumni for COP25. Contact him if you are interested in attending, and he will send you more information.