Editor's note: This story is one in a series, #PolicyForward, that spotlights how faculty, students and alumni at the Harris School of Public Policy are driving impact for the next generation. Leading up to the May 3 grand opening of Harris' new home at the Keller Center, these stories will examine three of the most critical issues facing our world: strengthening democracy, fighting poverty and inequality, and confronting the global energy challenge.

On March 1, public policy students from 14 programs around the world convened at the Keller Center for Inter-Policy School Summit 2019, an intensive three-day, student-run public policy conference that the Harris School of Public Policy students have planned and hosted for the past three years. 

This year, the participants’ objective was no small feat; at the conclusion of the conference, groups of students would present a series of data-driven solutions for addressing the intersection of two of the most critical issues of the modern era — climate change and national security. 

Conference attendees share a light moment during session.

The conference’s leadership team landed on Climate Change and National Security as this year’s topic of choice last June after cycling through a few other ideas. 

“We think that climate change is the challenge of our era, and we need data-driven evidence to decide on better policies,” said Luis Gonzales Carrasco MPP Class of 2019 and co-executive director of this year’s Inter-Policy School Summit. 

It was a prescient choice by the IPSS planning team, particularly in light of the findings included in the National Climate Assessment report released on Black Friday 2018, which provided analysis on how climate change is affecting the daily lives of everyday Americans. 

Gonzales Carrasco said he and his colleagues were inspired by William D. Nordhaus’s work integrating climate change and macroeconomic analysis. Nordhaus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences last year for his work in this field, a testament to the widespread acceptance of the urgency surrounding global climate patterns and the residual climate change effects. 

There are myriad issues that arise when considering the ramifications of climate change (the National Climate Assessment report identified 13 distinct sectors of study), and the intersection of climate change and national security, specifically, presents its own profile of concern areas.  The IPSS leadership team zeroed in on seven sectors in which to concentrate participants’ analytical energies over the weekend.

Additionally, IPSS partnered with the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program, which aims to create and implement non-partisan policy initiatives to address critical energy, environmental, and climate change issues head-on. At the end of the conference, the students not only presented their findings to each other, but to representatives from Aspen, as well, who will be publishing some of the students’ papers this spring. 

IPSS partnered with the Aspen Institute for the first time this year.

“The work these students are doing to develop new policy solutions will undeniably contribute to the advancement of climate security as a field,” said Greg Gershuny of the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program. “We are looking forward to seeing the final policy recommendations.”

The challenge, and opportunity, for the planning committee — and the participants themselves — was in effectively communicating the intersectional nature of the chosen sectors of study, which included agriculture, energy, labor, conflict, immigration, coastal areas and health. 

“This is a very challenging topic to discuss in a conference setting, but it was a good opportunity to bring together many perspectives,” said Nicolás de la Maza Greene MPP Class of 2019 and the IPSS’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing. 

The Honorable Sharon Burke, Senior Advisor to New America and former assistant secretary of defense for operational energy under the Obama administration, set the tone for the weekend with a keynote address on Friday. She framed climate change as a national consequence of the current global economy and compelled the students to consider climate change as an instability accelerant, as opposed to a relationship of cause and effect. 

“America’s national power is being undermined from within,” Burke said during her keynote.

Discussions abounded at IPSS.

Forty percent of the 37 students who participated in IPSS this year were Harris students, and the rest traveled to Chicago from universities around the country and world. 

Two students from the Science Po in Paris were sponsored by the Chicago France Center at the University of Chicago to attend. 

“Hon. Sharon Burke’s keynote address was gripping, and provided a base for our deliberations over the weekend,” said Smiti Yadav, Master of Public Policy, Sciences Po. “It was particularly interesting to analyze the far-reaching effects of climate change, many of which are obscured due to lack of direct evidence.” 

Yadav was part of the Agriculture Team, which focused their brainstorming and final presentation on issues “plaguing the agro-environmental sector” and “the complex relationship between various socio-economic and political impacts in the sector.” 

Farmers’ smaller agricultural yields are only the first layer of impact when considering how the resultant increase in crop prices affects such socio-economic issues as labour productivity, the political ramifications of this effect on migration, national security, etc., and then the obvious environmental concerns of depleting groundwater sources and air pollution. 

The first day of IPSS took place in the Harris Family Foundation King Harris Forum.

Most Americans believe that climate change is real, according to a survey conducted by the Yale and George Mason Climate Change Communication programs last December. And yet, there is still constant debate on how to best address the resultant issues. Within the realm of agriculture, specifically, that disconnect is currently on display as American political leaders debate the fine points of the Green New Deal and the Manhattan Project, two equally-sweeping initiatives which differ incrementally on seemingly small details that will have huge ramifications within the socio-economic and political realms. 

The trade-offs required in effective climate change policy making were apparent in the student groups’ brainstorming throughout the weekend, as well as their final presentations. In some sectors, the trade-offs between climate change solution and socio-economic advancement in both developed and developing countries become barriers to advancement. 

For example, the student group who focused on the energy sector identified barriers technological, economical and societal. 


As a member of the leadership team, Gonzales Carrasco didn’t personally participate in one of the student groups, but he was particularly intrigued by the Energy group’s findings due to the nature of his own area of study and interest. Shortly after the IPSS conference, his paper on renewable energy and the risk of energy poverty in Chile was published in a larger text about energy transitions. 

The trade-offs analyzed by the IPSS participants were the same ones Gonzales Carrasco explored in his paper. 

“If you go for more quality of environment, definitely you will sacrifice some resources that previously were designated for the alleviation of poverty for instance,” he explained. “We're going to be very green, very clean in terms of pollution, but that implies some costs. And some people are able to pay, but other people will not, and they need to be compensated because they are in a worse case than previously. So with that focus, I say, “OK, we're trying to introduce this carbon tax. That carbon tax is designed to reduce pollution.” But that carbon tax implies, depending on the mix of general statistics, that carbon tax implies the increasing of the electricity price.”

A higher cost of living, in Chile or anywhere, in turn can affect the Labor sector, as well, another area of focus at IPSS. Allison Von Borstel MPP Class of 2019 was a part of the student group exploring that particular sector. She decided to get involved with the conference this year specifically because of its theme. 

“Two of my interests are environmental change and security, and this conference was a unique opportunity to join my interests in a discussion of sustainability with scholars from other top universities and programs across the globe,” she said.

Students present in front of IPSS.

Upon graduating this year, Von Borstel plans to continue working in the climate change field. Immediately after IPSS, she went as part of a University of Chicago student leadership delegation to China where she participated in discussions revolving around the environment and urbanization. This June, she will attend the selective Global SSS in New Mexico, a summer program focused on global sustainability. 

“During the program, I will apply the knowledge garnered at the IPSS conference while working with experts in the field to lay the foundation for tacking pressing sustainability questions today,” she said. 

As the effects of climate challenge continue to infiltrate all levels of modern society, young policy makers with a passion and focus in this area of study will become necessary agents of change in the interest of slowing its deadly ramifications.

Read more #PolicyForward stories that spotlight how faculty, students and alumni at the Harris School of Public Policy are driving impact for the next generation.