Classroom Insights: Addressing Climate Change

Climate change is even further along than previously thought. Professor Douglas Kysar of Yale Law School talks about the scale of the challenge posed by global warming and what sorts of actions may help address it.

On May 9, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air passed 400 parts per million for the first time on record, and possibly the first time since the age of dinosaurs. While the 400 ppm threshold is largely symbolic, its crossing provoked widespread dismay among climate scientists and environmentalists, with predictions of rapidly rising sea levels and potential ecological disaster.

While climate change continues to be a contentious issue in Washington, D.C., and polls find the American public skeptical, it’s existence—and humankind’s role in it—is long past the point of debate among scientists. A survey of 4,000 abstracts on climate change written over more than two decades finds that 97% endorsed the concept that we’re in the midst of man-made global warming.

Anyone looking for a government response to this looming, slow-moving disaster is likely to be disappointed. Climate legislation is stalled in the U.S. Congress. With a new round of international climate talks set to begin this fall in Poland, there’s at least some hope that the world will move closer to finding some solutions. But at a precursor summit in Bonn at the end of April, a group of developing nations said that procrastination by developed countries had set the world back a decade in the fight against global warming. The divergent interests of rich and poor nations have proved a persistent stumbling block.

Recently, Douglas Kysar, the Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at Yale Law School, discussed the state of climate change and what can be done on both the macro level and the micro level to address it. Speaking to the Master of Advanced Management CEO Agenda 2020 class, he detailed the many threats from climate change to the globe and explained why he favors broad regulatory and legislative attempts to slow global warming over individual efforts, such as "trying to live like Gandhi," whose possessions at his death essentially amounted to a pair of shoes, a walking stick, a book, and a pair of glasses. "Can we expect 7 billion people on the planet to emulate Gandhi?" Kysar asked. "To me that’s not a recipe for successful policy reform…We need institutions that are commensurate with the scale of the problem."

This lecture was part of the CEO Agenda 2020 course, which all Master of Advanced Management students take. The seminar-style class brings in great thinkers from throughout Yale University to speak about the biggest challenges of the global marketplace. View "Grand Strategy for the CEO,"  a talk by Charles Hill, distinguished fellow in international security studies at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. We will have excerpts from other lectures soon.

Joseph M. Field '55 Professor of Law, Yale Law School