An Exclusive Meeting with Prof. Andrew Light, Former Obama Adviser

The Heschel Center was excited to partner with the Porter School of Environmental Studies of Tel Aviv University (PSES) and the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences (ISEES) in hosting Prof. Andrew Light for a series of lectures and meetings in Israel on the topic of climate change in global and local perspectives. Andrew Light is is University Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Atmospheric Sciences at George Mason University, and Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute, in Washington, D.C.  From 2013-2016 he served as Senior Climate Adviser in the Secretary of State’s Office of Policy Planning, in the U.S. Department of State.  In this capacity he served on the senior strategy team for the UN climate negotiations, and Chair of the Interagency Climate Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals, among other duties.

We hosted Andrew in a public lecture at the PSES, where he shared with us some fascinating behind the scenes stories of the stunning breakthroughs that were achieved at COP 21 in Paris, as well as more sobering insights of the road ahead in making that vision a reality in the present administration. Following the public lecture we convened an impressive cadre of leading climate scientists and social-environmental researchers for a private learning and strategizing session with Light. Thirty academics from a wide variety of institutional affiliations as well as disciplinary training had a lively roundtable discussion, specifically about what they – what we – should be doing at the present historical moment, but more broadly about what the general role of academics should be both in influencing policy and in communicating science to the broader public.

A number of suggestions were proffered. The first is to frame a public letter to be signed by prominent academics and published in the newspapers, explain the basics of the climate crisis, as well as the opportunities to be had from a serious response, and calling on Israel to live up to its international commitments under the Paris agreements. The draft of this document is nearing completion and we hope to get 500 signatories, which will then be distributed widely.

A second suggestion, which the Heschel Center has adopted, is to write a more comprehensive position paper and action plan, focusing on how to frame the climate issue as a broader social and political one, in a way that can achieve more traction. We have assembled a steering committee for this work, and hope to have a draft ready for publication by the fall.

A third suggestion, which is still on the drawing board, is to create an independent multi-disciplinary academic commission to monitor Israel’s work in climate mitigation and adaptation, and be a responsible and authoritative voice from the field to help move Israel to a post-carbon society.