Steven Cohen on How to Get Sustainability on the Political Agenda

In an article in The Huffington Post, Steven Cohen, director of the Sustainability Management graduate program, discussed a recent panel discussion at Columbia "on the impact of climate and the environment on the 2016 elections."

Pointing out "the [infrastructure] costs of extreme weather events in the U.S. subsequent to Hurricane Sandy," Cohen questioned the "anti-governmental ideology [that] continues to dominate political dialogue." "If the job is tough and no market can be created for the work, we assign it to government," he said.

Cohen maintained that "we need public leadership if we are to reinforce and rebuild our decaying infrastructure to enable it to adapt to the forces of climate change," and that "environmental issues inevitably find their way onto the political agenda," because "governments are expected to protect people from danger, and pollution's impact on health" is a pressing matter.

The professor, however, takes issue at how some environmental activists frame issues negatively "in an effort to frighten people into action." Instead, he argues that "what is needed politically and in reality is a positive vision of a sustainable society." This can be achieved through traditional American values such as "freedom, rewarding individual achievement, a love of the new and novel, innovation, and acceptance (even if reluctantly) of other people, cultures and lifestyles."

Detailing the potential positive outcomes of this approach, Prof. Cohen said, "If we are to effectively make the transition to a sustainable, renewable, resource-based economy, we will need to rebuild that sense of community and shared sacrifice that we have drawn on in the past."

Read the full article in The Huffington Post, and find out more about the graduate program in Sustainability Management.