Solving the Climate Crisis is About Preserving Human Dignity

By: Janice Endresen
A picture of Ina Gjika at the opening plenary of the conference with the stage and big screen of sponsors behind her.

Ina Gjika, MS '22 (Dyson), excited to be attending the Aspen Ideas: Climate conference

By Ina Gjika, MS ‘22

“We have a moral responsibility to the next generation—to the future—to be good stewards of this planet,” said Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, at the opening plenary of the Aspen Ideas: Climate conference. While speaking to Susan Goldberg, former editor-in-chief of National Geographic, during the opening panel, Pelosi said that climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is also a health, moral, and economic issue touching the lives of all of us. While listening to her, I felt inspired and comforted to hear that such an important figure in the legislative branch of the government is serious about tackling this issue. This vibe persisted throughout the four days of the conference, which I had the great opportunity to attend, as a professional and graduate student, on behalf of the Cornell Energy Club and the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Inspirational Dialogue

Let me tell you a bit more about this event and share with you some of my key takeaways from listening to and interacting with the participants, as well as participating in a remarkable field trip. Aspen Ideas: Climate is a new public event organized by the Aspen Institute and designed to focus on solutions to the climate crises. From May 9 through May 11, 2022, climate experts, policymakers, investors, leaders of climate-focused organizations, students, and other stakeholders gathered in Miami Beach—also considered  ground zero for sea-level rise—to engage in thought discussions and inspirational dialogue on adaptation and mitigation actions to address this problem our planet is facing.

Reflecting on those four days, the panel conversations, as well as the off-stage networking events, my major takeaways are centered around four important themes: climate risk and data analytics, climate justice, climate economy, and climate change communication and storytelling.

1.      Climate Risk and Data Analytics

As a former banker, I am somewhat familiar with climate risk and its major components, such as the physical and transition risks. As an applied economist by academic training, hearing that climate risk is a non-linear risk made me reflect on what the implications of this fact may be. As human beings, we often think in linear terms, where the causal chain follows a clear path. Yet non-linearity, in a risk context, implies lower predictability if we use our traditional risk-predictive tools. Non-linearity also implies being ready to deal with the aftermath of the unknown unknowns. Each hurricane, each fire event, each drought is different, and after each event we learn a new resilience lesson that helps us to prepare for the next event to the best of our abilities, as LaToya Cantrell, mayor of New Orleans, said during the panel, Climate Infrastructure: Build Back Better and Beyond.

This leads to another important distinction between the real and the perceived risk, as explained by Arunabha Ghosh, founding CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a leading South Asian policy research institution based in India, during a panel about financing the transition to clean energy. We often tend to overestimate or underestimate the real climate risk, which then translates into lack of investment and timely policy making. The so-called anecdotal risks, which can discourage investments due to one particular narrative, create biases that generalize climate risk.

Even though climate risk is global, having a localized and granular analysis of each particular region, or even county, can help channel public actors’ and multilateral banks’ efforts towards where they are most needed. Obtaining real-time data, and utilizing deep learning and AI technologies to analyze them, can highly inform decision-making for policymakers, investors, and even clean-energy developers, as Jeff Weiss ’79, executive chairman of Distributed Sun, stated in the climate infrastructure panel discussion.

2.      Climate justice

As the title of this post suggests, solving the climate crisis is about preserving human dignity. The equity component was key in each of the climate-action conversations, especially as low-to-middle-income (LMI) communities and developing countries are the ones most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Representing the interests of all stakeholders at the table regardless of income or gender, and including all minorities and indigenous American people, is crucial to make the efforts meaningful and truly impactful. Supporting land and ocean conservation efforts, as well as providing equitable clean energy incentives, are just some of the mechanisms to put climate justice into action.

3.      Climate economy

All aspects of microeconomics and macroeconomics should be viewed using climate lenses. The bioeconomy (defined by the Congressional Research Service as “the share of the economy based on products, services, and processes derived from biological resources”), a term Google CEO Eric Schmidt used during a plenary session, should gain priority while incorporating the circularity concept in production to include the end-of-life of what we consume. Technology and innovation are key ingredients to advance a climate economy, said speaker John Doerr, chairman of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, who gave some insights on the climate action plan he proposes in his book, Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now.

Another key takeaway is the significance of geopolitical dynamics, which are impacting supply chains as countries impose protectionist policies rather than cooperate to resolve energy-related supply chain issues. Cooperation and supply diversification regarding critical minerals are important if we want to accelerate progress towards climate goals and not get stuck in a long-term energy transition economy.

4.      Climate change communication and storytelling

It can be challenging to convey information about climate change, including some of the ideas discussed here, both because some of it is technical and difficult to comprehend and because it can seem irrelevant, given the numerous priority items that businesses and governments have on their agendas. Therefore, some of the panelists talked about the necessity of practicing reliable, solution-based reporting. Appealing to reason and a positive outlook in reaching specified climate goals can be more effective than appealing to fear and negativity. We have come a long way from climate denial to efforts to present a picture that inspires action.

A Hopeful Future

A picture of Ina Gjika standing in front of a large battery storage unit.
The battery storage system for Florida International University’s microgrid

In addition to the conference sessions and informal discussions, I also had the opportunity to visit the Engineering Center, a research center in the College of Engineering and Computing at Florida International University (FIU). Visiting their 8400-horsepower Wall of Wind and the microgrid and 9 MW battery storage systems, as well as learning about the patented technologies in predictive analytics and wireless EV charging that the center has been working on, was a remarkable experience and proof of innovation potential in tackling all of the challenges the thought leaders talked about during the conference.

A picture of Ina Gjika and other conference attendees standing in front of large turbines.
The Wall of Wind at Florida International University

As I reflect on this experience, I realize that I have learned a lot. Despite the multiple challenges in executing climate solutions and handling the politics that surround it, the fact that many different stakeholders are able to gather and discuss how to execute on climate goals makes me feel more hopeful. I am grateful to the Aspen Institute, the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, and the Cornell Energy Club for supporting my participation in this event, and I look forward to continuing dialogues and action with all the great people I connected with there.

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About Ina Gjika, MS ’22

headshot of Ina Gjika.

Ina Gjika is a committed professional in the fields of renewable energy, development economics, banking, and sustainable finance. She recently completed her graduate studies in the MS in Applied Economics and Management program at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, where she was a Master’s & Internship Program (MIP) fellowship recipient. After graduation, Gjika joined Distributed Sun, a clean energy company, as a project finance and development manager. She is a Sustainable Global Enterprise program alumna as well as a member of the Cornell Energy Club. Prior to earning her master’s degree, Gjika worked for five years in business development and credit risk in the banking sector in Albania.