Sarah Stafford, William & Mary’s CSX Professor of Economics and Public Policy, has organized an on-campus event as part of a Worldwide Teach-In on Climate Solutions and Justice. 

The event is scheduled for Wednesday, March 30 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Integrated Science Center. W&M joins more than 1,000 universities, schools and non-profit organizations in participating in a teach-in that is expected to reach 1 million people, said Stafford, the chair of the economics department. 

Sarah Stafford

W&M students are encouraged to attend the event, which will be broken up into three, hour-long sessions. They are encouraged to register to attend via the university’s teach-in website, although registration is not required. Students can attend any of the sessions. 

W&M News spoke to Stafford about the event. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: What is the Worldwide Teach-In, and what is William & Mary doing to join this discussion? 

A: The event was created a number of years ago by two professors at Bard College to really highlight for a wide population what’s happening in terms of climate change, preparations for climate change and how that has impacts on justice — the intersection between climate change, climate change adaptations and how certain ethnicities or socio-economic groups that, because of their locations, might be impacted differently. And then, how do we think about transitioning from our current setup, where we are really increasing dramatically the temperature of the world, to some sort of more sustainable system without having that be unfairly distributed across people across the world? The purpose is to bring more recognition to the issue and to really have these dialogues with students, since they are the people who are going to have to really take on the burden of figuring this all out.   

The event’s focus was initially at the college level, but it has since expanded to both K-12 education as well as bringing in nonprofits and people who might be educating non-traditional college-age students. But it is primarily happening at colleges, schools and nonprofit organizations. This is the first year that William & Mary has been involved, so we are joining many other schools across the U.S. and the world in having a teach-in to try to do a better job of having these tough conversations and making sure that they are as inclusive as possible in terms of both who is at the table talking about these issues as well as the people who are attending. We have faculty members across the university from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives to talk about exactly how they are thinking about climate and climate issues. Some people are focusing on energy; some are focusing on food. Some people are really engaged in the justice impacts, and other people are more focused on science and what’s happening and why.   

Q: Could you expand on some of those topics that will be covered at William & Mary?

A: The first hour will feature the following topics: climate and justice; climate science; and sea level rise and social vulnerability. The second hour will include: global climate solutions; climate solutions for energy; food systems and climate solutions; and how to teach about climate. 

In the third hour, Sen. Monty Mason ’89 is going to join us and talk about what’s happening at the Virginia state level, and then we’re going to have some students who are themselves working on different issues talk about how they’ve gotten involved and the steps they’ve taken to try and make a difference.  

Q: How did William & Mary get involved in this event? 

A: One of the organizers at Bard College is Eban Goodstein, who is an economist who has written an economics textbook and whom I know professionally. I was included on a mailing list he sent out, and I read about it and thought this is something we should have. I talked to the director of W&M’s Environmental & Sustainability Program, Andy Fisher, and Director of Sustainability Calandra Waters Lake and said, “I think this is something we should do. Are you guys on board?” And I volunteered to take the lead in organizing it.   

Q: What topic will you be speaking on, and what will students learn from this? 

A: My research focuses on the impacts that sea-level rise is going to have on the Virginia coastline, and in particular, what that’s going to mean for communities and the Virginia economy. My focus is going to be on how many of the potential adaptations we can take as a state that could impact certain socio-economic groups more dramatically than others, such as low-income persons and people of color who won’t have the same resources to either personally invest in making their homes more impervious to sea-level rise and storm damage or might be targeted for a managed retreat program. Often, many of the low-lying communities that are more subject to sea-level rise also happen to be communities of color, just because they were less favorable locations in the first place. Those were places where people were able to buy homes, but now for many people in those communities, this is one of their major assets, and it is being devalued because of sea-level rise. So how can we as a society transition to a situation that is better prepared for sea-level rise but also doesn’t leave anybody behind?  

Q: This is such an important topic from a worldwide perspective but also here at W&M. And it corresponds nicely with William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan, which focuses on water, data, democracy and careers.   

A: One reason it’s really important is this is happening here to us and to people in our communities. In particular, W&M’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science has been very involved in lots of projects that are really trying to figure out how we’re going to deal with sea-level rise, how bad the problem is going to be and what are our potential adaptations. There’s the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at the law school that is also working on these issues, so we have a lot of groups on campus who are working on these issues. Many of them are water-related, not all of them, but I think what we’re really trying to do now is get the people who have worked more on the science side more in touch with people who have been working on the more humanities side to really recognize this is a problem that’s going to require solutions that are whole-university solutions. It’s not just the fishery scientists, not just the hydrologists. We all need to be involved in this because of the justice implications of it, so it’s really trying to not only help the students see all these interconnections, but also that researchers recognize who else is working in this space. That’s why the panels themselves are interdisciplinary, to try to maybe make some connections there, too.   

Q: This global teach-in has grown quite a bit to 1,000 schools and organizations reaching a million people. What do you know about the growth of this? 

A: I think it’s really gaining some traction. I’ve heard of what some other programs are doing, and I see that there are just so many ways that we could grow this at William & Mary. This is our first year, so we wanted to sort of start by just focusing on the William & Mary students, and we weren’t sure what the pandemic was going to do, so we didn’t think it made sense back in November to plan to invite all the high schools. In D.C., colleges have gotten together, and they’re doing sort of a joint teach-in where they have things that are both for students but also for everybody in the consortium. So I think we should be looking to the future and thinking about how we get involved with other institutions in the Hampton Roads area or maybe bring in the high schools and get more public involvement. I think this will grow as a William & Mary event in the future, once we’ve gotten the first year under our belt and know what we’re doing, and I think we want to keep growing it and maybe using it as a way to bring more people to campus and introduce them to the campus. I think there are a lot of kids in high school who would be really excited to hear about these topics.  

, Communications Specialist