Tompkins County Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton addressed the Cornell Political Union, outlining the damaging effects of fossil fuels on the planet and the immediate action required by government at all levels.
Lifton’s speech was then followed by a debate, though members referred to it as more of an exchange, between her and CPU members on whether the state should stop building major fossil fuel infrastructure.
Lifton represents the 125th Assembly District, including all of Tompkins County, and she serves on five standing committees: Agriculture, Education, Election Law, Environmental Conservation and Higher Education.
Throughout her time on the assembly, Lifton said she has primarily sponsored legislation that required oil, gas or mineral leases in the state of New York to record and document the carbon footprints. She now works to further the cause for fully renewable energy and has issued a call for a moratorium to suspend the statewide emission of fossil fuels.
Global average temperature and sea level are both significantly higher today than ever before in human history, due primarily to human activity, she noted.
“Human activities, especially additions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-twentieth century,” Lifton said. “That means that even if we do all that we can to mitigate greenhouse gases, we will face major challenges due to the inertia of ongoing climate change.”
The political atmosphere within the United States is struggling to keep up with the changing global climate. Lifton explained that the state of New York has taken on numerous initiatives, but despite action, it will be difficult to reduce emissions fast enough to meet current legislative goals.
Noah Belser ’20, president of the Cornell Political Union, thought that for an issue as pertinent as climate change, it was important to bring in a local leader who has focused on the topic for an extended period of time.
Belser added that this topic is important for college students because it is heavily driven by change on the grassroots level. When students engage in conversations about sustainability and clean energy, they can reach a degree of agreement that is difficult to attain on the national level, he said.
“More political discussions need to be held on the future of our energy,” Belser said. “Starting at the campus level is a really great way to spread awareness, especially given the lack of national coordination and cohesion in terms of how to become more sustainable.”
Michael Johns ’20, a member of the Cornell Political Union, called the event constructive and allowed him to reflect with his peers on an issue to which all individuals should be paying a lot more attention.
Johns also explained that the discussion played out more like an exchange rather than a debate, fostering an environment where the students could pile together different opinions and reach a shared understanding.
“People feel like they can more easily engage and give their opinions without fear of judgement,” Johns said. “We are really good here [Cornell Political Union] about trying to hone in on things that impact the community that we inhabit, but also things that are important in the national-political consciousness.”