Talking COP26: An Interview with Student Leader Wylie Feaster
Updated: May 12, 2022
Science communication is a large focus for us here at Carbon Reform. Being a climate-tech company, we know that it is important to speak about science in a way that allows for understanding while still carrying the weight of our technical message. This is especially difficult in climate science; concepts may not always be the most tangible, but being able to effectively show evidence regarding impacts of anthropogenic influence on the Earth is key in taking on the crisis. Climate science communication has been more and more common in recent years as the climate crisis grows in urgency. Just this year, it can be seen from the newest IPCC report to the COP26 summit that happened this month in Glasgow, Scotland.
Carbon Reform develops modular carbon capture devices and focuses on pollution control for indoor air, and we operate on three pillars of climate, health, and equity. As a mission-driven company, we have been keeping a close eye on COP26 and other climate conferences, for it will most definitely set the course for the future of our field. However, it will not just be carbon capture that is affected by decisions made at COP26: it is the entire world.
I wanted to get a student’s perspective on communicating science and policy within the context of COP26. Wylie Feaster is a Gen Z student leader at the University of Delaware, serving as the President of Students for the Environment, the University’s oldest environmental organization. In late October, just before the start of the summit, I got the chance to speak to Wylie about his experience leading students who are passionate about climate—read on through some of our conversation to get a student leader’s perspective to what is going on with COP26 and beyond.
Claudia Schreier: Hey, Wylie. How are you? It’s good to be talking to you today for the Carbon Reform blog. You are president of Students for the Environment (S4E). Your group is full of young, motivated people looking to make change in environmentalism and climate justice. What is the mission of S4E, and what do you all do?
Wylie Feaster: We have three focus areas—environmental education, environmental advocacy, and environmental action. I like to have educational programming that reinforces the idea that we are trying to get across for that time, and then a real-world component that students can actually act on outside of the classroom. Some things we’ve done in the past are lobbying for certain environmental initiatives that we really believe in, and also a lot of our focus is on UD’s campus.
How do you approach climate science communication on campus? That’s really what I’m trying to see your perspective on today, as this blog is ultimately for science communication. How do you get people involved and excited, and do you think the change can come really from students?
Attempting to make change on a college campus really will prepare us for the future. I think it just takes time—no one is just going to go out and change the world in one second, but true change really does come from continued effort and practice. UD is a great place for students who know they want to make a difference in the country to practice making a difference. It could be a motivation thing. I think that if students are able to see the connections between what they are doing and actual change in their community, it may motivate them to pursue their efforts further. Seeing the fruits of your efforts is very valuable. It lights a fire. That’s why we do community service all over Delaware, organize climate strikes, and so many other tangible things. It’s excitement.
And social media is such a good tool that so many young people are acquainted with! I don’t do much PR for S4E, but I can see how important it is, as that is where we get most of our engagement outside of events. Creating excitement for events and initiatives that are going on through the organization is something that can be facilitated really well through social media. It’s not just for announcing meetings, it really is where we can reach people we can’t at meetings and events.
You just mentioned preparation for the future. Do you think that UD, or any college campus, serves as a microcosm for the greater community stage? You know, COP26 starts in a few days- what is S4E's response to it, and does it even matter in the grand scheme of things?
S4E is 100% following the news and keeping an eye on COP26. It’s going to predict the trajectory of the environmental efforts for our country for at least the next few years, and ensuring that our leaders stick to what they promise in Glasgow is something that is going to be an initiative for environmental organizations operating at the national and international level.
Action definitely matters, at any scale. We’re trying to put together some sort of informational session of what COP26 is and what is so important about it. This summit comes right after the new IPCC report that came out in August, so we are really interested to see what world leaders will do in response to that. The main headline was “code red for humanity," and the executive summary sticks. Our event will also be an open forum for students and community members to voice their opinions on what they think about the summit. We’re really looking for students, like young students, not just college students, to get involved.
This interview was done just before the conference, but it turns out that Wylie echoed a popular sentiment that was observed over the course of COP26: young people want in on climate justice. Glasgow saw over 100,000 protestors during the conference, led by young activists like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate. They called for our world leaders to be held accountable for what they either agreed to or failed to acknowledge at the conference. More protests occurred around Europe and the rest of the world.
Image: A protest in Edinburgh during November 2021, The Guardian
Activists were angry, and they were worried about the outcome of the conference for a multitude of reasons. It is likely that one of them was that the largest delegation at the conference was from the oil and gas industry. There were more attendees at COP26 who have ties to oil and gas than any of the participating countries sent to Glasgow. Additionally, this year's COP resulted in the Glasgow Climate Pact, among other successes, but the language around fossil fuels included "phase down" instead of "phase out."
Things like this worry people who are coming of age during this climate crisis. One common but realistic fear is that COP26 will result in a “climate delay”—not a refusal for action from government and industry, but climate will just not be prioritized in the way that it should be. The agreements made at this year’s conference, and every COP, are not legally binding in most countries, so holding necessary parties accountable is extremely important for climate activists.
Image: Global Witness
Regardless of whether specific goals were met or not, COP26 was very important for setting our course for the future. Some outcomes were worrisome, but others left attendees and onlookers very hopeful for the future. The World Health Organization sponsored the COP26 Health Pavilion, with educational events and policy talks regarding climate's intersection with public health. This is one of the first times ever that a conference like this includes health professionals to ensure that climate negotiations include health equity.
The conference also stirred global interest in new technologies like carbon capture. Here at Carbon Reform, we were very interested to see talks about our field at COP26!
The Paris Agreement was also finalized, which is in line with the goal of only 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Many countries additionally pledged to both halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, and India has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2070. Further deals included a pledge to decrease methane emissions, as well as to increase financial support for developing nations in assistance with adapting to climate impacts. International collaborative efforts have allowed for these pledges to be possible, but only time will tell if the major players will stick to their end of what was agreed.
To learn more about our mission of clean air for people and planet, visit our website: www.carbonreform.com.