Individual actions are important to mitigate climate change, but more and more often, the general message has become: System-level change will have an even larger impact on the future. A group of University of Arizona students came together in the fall to drive change in this way.
Students in the Science Policy and Diplomacy class, taught by engineering professors Kevin Lansey and Hassan Vafai, teamed up with students in the Climate Change Adaptation class, taught by Gregg Garfin, an associate professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. Together, they participated in a project hosted by the Diplomacy Lab – a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State and a network of U.S. academic institutions.
The UArizona students were assigned a project, developed under the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, that aims to find solutions to challenges in the region and to identify opportunities for the U.S. and the Mekong people and states. The students focused on improving food, energy and water security in Southeast Asia's Lower Mekong River Basin countries, which include Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
After months of research and brainstorming, four of the 12 students presented their policy recommendations in December via Zoom to Jung H. Pak, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Multilateral Affairs. The students outlined solutions to mitigate harm caused to the region by the changing climate, to reduce the carbon footprint of the people living there and to communicate these issues in innovative ways.
"I was really proud of this class and what we were able to accomplish together – undergraduates and graduates from all different backgrounds and fields of study – and we worked together seamlessly," said Shelley Littin, who is pursuing a master's degree in systems engineering. "Yes, it was classwork, but for the first time, this felt like we were also doing something with real-world impact."