Tackling global climate change might be too overwhelming for many Mississippians to think about, but everyone can make an impact.
“Individual decisions about our own emissions can in fact have a significant effect,” Millsaps College history professor William Storey said at a conference on global climate action hosted by the college on Thursday. “It’s not that hard.”
His advice came at the event entitled “Global Climate Action – Sustainable Investment in Germany and the United States” that was a partnership between Millsaps, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Ecologic Institute US, an environmental research think tank operating in Berlin, Brussels and Washington, D.C.
Storey says some of the most effective ways to tackle climate change are made at the individual level — such as which car to drive or which light bulbs are installed at home.
He was among individuals and business leaders based both locally and in Germany presenting concrete examples and practices on how to address climate change.
The discussion was meant to both increase awareness of climate change and its future impacts while sharing the results and best practices of German and American companies and organizations.
Marco Illig is executive vice president of operations for Feuer Powertrain, a crankshaft manufacturer based in both Robinsonville and Nordhausen in Germany. He said that after more than 17 years in the crankshaft business, he has seen the downsizing of engines in Germany and Europe in the past 10 years from a 6-cylinder to a 4-cylinder. Hybrid engines have also become more popular, and his business has been able to adjust to this change, he said.
“With such engines and in such context, that’s the future for the next 10-20 years in mobility,” Illig said.
Representatives from Continental Tire, Siemens USA, Tennessee Valley Authority, Entergy and other businesses took part.
Representatives from Entergy and the Tennessee Valley Authority highlighted how the utilities are taking part in technological advances for economic reasons.
Chuck Barlow, vice president of environmental strategy and policy at Entergy, brought up how the utility is shifting away from coal in favor of natural gas. He also mentioned efforts such as Entergy’s charging stations Jackson State University and other colleges, installing advanced home electric meters and recent updates at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson.
Richard Howorth, board of directors chair for the Tennessee Valley Authority, spoke about TVA moving away from coal and its efforts to invest more in natural gas and solar power.
Kenneth Townsend, executive director of the Institute for Civic and Professional Engagement at Millsaps College, noted that the conversation addressed climate change not just from an angle appealing to activist types but also business leaders who could speak to the economic benefits of climate and energy.
“Renewables in the U.S. in general are not quite as big of a conversation as it is in Europe, and even within the U.S., in Mississippi it’s less (so),” Townsend said.
He said this may be because Mississippians consider other issues closer to home, such as education and infrastructure, to be more pressing, and it is simply harder to make the case of putting climate change at the forefront of their minds.
“At the end of the day, we’re really going to see change when it makes sense for people economically to change their behavior,” Townsend said.
Energy and utilities in the United States also cost relative less compared to Germany, according to Max Gruenig, president of Ecologic Institute. He said he is likely to come across skeptics of climate change in the United States, especially outside of bigger cities, whereas in Germany, skeptics of climate change are in the minority.
Yet, Gruenig said was he very happy to see many positive responses leading up to and during the Millsaps event. He hopes to return to Mississippi to share more of his work and encourage more conversations about climate change.
“There’s a lot of people who are interested in sustainability and climate action,” Gruenig said. “If you go to the countryside, people that are really attached to the land, they also notice climate change much more.”