The glasses came off, and on and no punches were pulled.
Gina McCarthy, the former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama, gave an animated speech to community members at the University of New Mexico School of Law about the concerns of climate change Wednesday evening.
The focus of the speech was reframing how climate change and policy is discussed.
“Stop talking about the health of the planet. The planet could give two — sorry I’ll be polite — the planet doesn’t care if the climate is changing, it remains a planet. We should care, because people might not be living on the planet,” McCarthy said while gesticulating.
Almost 200 people watched the speech from the rows of white chairs set up in the law school’s lobby. The speech was punctuated with bouts of laughter from the audience as she flung jokes from the podium.
However, McCarthy also touched on the more serious concerns of climate change, including air pollution, drought and fears of not producing enough food.
One issue that came up was , proposed by Scott Pruitt, the current EPA administrator under President Trump. and other companies have publicly condemned the repeal of the policy, a legacy of Obama’s to curb carbon emissions.
Tabling at the event was Tere Baca, an intern with . She was representing a coalition of environmental groups collecting public comments on the repeal.
“The period for public comment closes (Thursday) evening, so this is really urgent and timely,” Baca said.
The Clean Power Plan was expected to cut power sector emissions by 32 percent by 2030. Power plants fueled by coal and natural gas are responsible for one-third of the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions, .
McCarthy spoke for just over a half hour and dedicated another half hour to answering questions from the audience.
The first question from the audience was about McCarthy’s position on fracking.
She said that inexpensive natural gas changed the economic dynamic of coal and oil based power plants and helped push through clean air regulations, but the industry has to “grow up just a little bit” and adhere to cleaner standards.
“I think that states need to have regulations that are stringent on fracking,” McCarthy said. “You have the same obligations as any other industry standards have. You don’t contaminate the groundwater (and) you don’t release methane, especially when it’s your product.”
Fracking has been a controversial issue in New Mexico. describes fracking as a method to extract oil and natural gas. The process includes drilling outward from a wellhead injecting liquid at high pressures to force fissures into rocks and boreholes.
According to the , oil and gas typically provides the state around $2 billion in direct revenues.
Advocates say the process is more environmentally friendly as opposed to traditional vertical drilling into the ground. Critics say the the method is known to and the that fracking affects drinking water.
McCarthy also directed her comments to the University students in the audience, saying that college campuses are the future of developing sustainably.
“You are our conscience. You tell us what you need. You are the people we should be working for,” she said.
Some of the attendees included second-year law students of the , a publication that collects policy writings on energy and the environment.
Jimmy Grieco is a co-lead citation editor at the journal and said the speech helped emphasize how important writing about environmental policy is at the University level.
“It’s critical now because of the timeliness of the environmental challenges occurring right now,” Grieco said. “It’s important to do this work at universities, because we are able to bridge the gap between the professionals who write about it and the students who read about it.”
McCarthy ended her speech with a challenge to the audience not to just talk about climate change, but to take action by voting and advocating.
“Pull up your big-girl pants, your big-boy pants or your gender-neutral pants and do something — we’ll all be better for it,” she said.
Danielle Prokop is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.