Climate Action Conference Sets Record Attendance: ‘We Have to Do What It Takes’


By Nick Wilson

            The third year of the Climate Solutions Now conference set record attendance with more than 800 virtual participants.

            The Oct. 25-27, 2023 event featured more than 65 online presentations on a wide range of topics related to transportation, energy, food, agriculture, education, communication, digital technology, data and more. 

           "The goal of the conference is to get people, especially students, excited about engaging with the climate emergency,” said Erin Pearse, a mathematics professor and director of Cal Poly’s Initiative for Climate Leadership and Resilience. “Instead of turning their backs to something that is usually presented as bad news, and with a sense of inevitability, we want them to see how much opportunity there is.”

           The event attracted 821 attendees came from around the world ¾ mostly California but also including participants from Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Thailand and Argentina ¾ the most ever in its young history.

           They heard from presenters such as Senator John Laird, the keynote speaker; Ellie Cohen, CEO of The Climate Center; Susan Callery of NASA JPL; Eric Veium, chair of the SLO Climate Coalition; and Matt Scott, director of storytelling and engagement at Project Drawdown.

           The speaker list also included several Cal Poly faculty members with expertise and involvement in areas of climate study, projects, research and data. Those included Bailey College instructors Dave Camp, Peter Schwartz, Vidya Schalk, Leslie Hamachi, Kurt Holland, Matthew Zoerb, Lars Tomanek and Pearse.

           Presentations covered topics such as climate smart agriculture, biological effects of climate change, rebutting climate myths, air quality and green initiative updates, climate education, dining sustainability and decarbonizing construction.

           Cal Poly student speakers included Lilly Fulton (environmental management and protection) and Olivia Everitt (chemistry), who presented on the college corps fellowship program which students are paid to work toward statewide climate challenges.

           Citing a recent question at a public forum about the economic benefit of addressing climate issues, Laird said: “The real question is, ‘Should we let our climate continue to deteriorate versus the actions that we have to take that have to be strong, to lower greenhouse gas emissions and adapt?” Laird said. “We have to do what it takes.”

           Laird cited legislation that will impact the future of California, such as Senate Bill 1020 that creates clean electricity targets of 90% by 2035, 95% by 2040 and 100% clean electricity retail sales by a 2045 goal.

           Laird said that goals make a difference in “incentivizing and targeting the reductions” that are needed to reduce the pollution that is wreaking havoc on the environment and causing weather extremes such as hurricanes, fires, floods and more.

           Among the notable quotes from presentations:

  • “Over the last 150 years, we have direct measurements showing consistent trends of increase of ocean warming.” – Dave Camp from his talk “Rebutting Climate Myths: Feedback Loops and Time Scales in Climate”
  • “We throw around data, statistics and stories at people. I love questions. And I think the questions are so much more powerful than answers at times because we can learn from people about where they are and what they care about.” — Matt Scott from ‘The Power of Stories in Climate Solutions’
  • “At StoveTeam International, we are committed to the mission of reducing open-fire cooking in homes throughout Central America for three very important reasons: health, women empowerment and well-being in the environment. Each year, 4 million people die prematurely because of complications due to open fire cooking.” – Matt Hatfield from ‘Improved Cookstoves in Central America and their Measured Reduction in CO2 Emissions’
  • We know that delayed climate action costs lives and dollars, bankrupting our future. The cost of inaction could be enormous, despite the impressive clean, clean energy growth. – Ellie Cohen from ‘Climate Emergency: How can California lead the world for accelerated, equitable climate action?’

           Cal Poly students can get involved in projects and programs related to sustainability through the College Corps program and the Cal Poly Green Campus Team, among other opportunities.

           To expose the audience to activities and ideas, the conference also was designed to showcase work in a variety of sectors, which could lead to career and life choices, Pearse said.

           "We wanted to showcase a broad array of climate solutions across many sectors from Agriculture & Food Systems, Energy, the Built Environment, Transportation, Computers and Data, Communications and more so that folks can see examples of the innovative ways that people are incorporating sustainability into their existing career track, or building a career around sustainable solutions,” Pearse said.



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Erin Pearse 
Phone: (805) 756-5558

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Hadley Willman

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Michael Boswell, CRP
Charles (Dave) Camp, Math
Yiwen Chiu, NRES
Adrienne Greve,  CRP
Jay Peters, ENGL
Lars Tomanek, Bio

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