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.

Mark Mesle, a 2019 CLA Fellow, is the Midwest Senior Outreach Coordinator of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Why is the problem of climate change so important to effectively address?

We all tend to join causes that protect what we love. Our passions are often determined by the economic issues that have rippled through the block we grew up on, the injustice we witnessed first hand or the disease that cut down someone whose hand we once held.

What makes climate change so different is that it has the potential to impact all the people and places we love.

The ripple effects of fundamentally altering our atmosphere are not limited to one region or segment of society. It is you, me and everyone we know. Climate change poses existential threats to water sources, coastal shorelines and crops that we have built our lives around. It also poses personal threats to the neighbor across the street who can’t afford an air conditioner or the forests we walked through as kids.

However, while climate change is a global issue, its causes, impacts and potential solutions are not spread evenly.

Just as the citizens of the poorest nations will be hardest hit by climate impacts, the citizens of rich and powerful nations have the greatest obligation, and opportunities, to mitigate those impacts. Particularly when those citizens live in the one country on the planet that has actively rejected the Paris Climate Accord.

To have a voice and a vote in this country, at this time, is a unique opportunity to do a remarkable amount of good.

What advice would you give the "next generation" of young people eager to combat climate change?

My daughter, Charley, who will be entering kindergarten in the fall of 2019, has already experienced the five hottest years in recorded history. Charley will experience a world that is different from the one we have always known. She will face challenges that are hard for me to imagine.

I want her to know that addressing those challenges will require the full range of our collective talents and resiliency, and she will have to ability make a significant contribution. However, that contribution can come in many different forms.

Confronting climate change requires talented engineers and scientific breakthroughs, but it also requires good writers, teachers, lawyers, farmers and voter registrars. It requires Mayors and Senators, but also children who are willing to write letters and speak up even when their voice feels shaky.

What policies would make the most impact to combat climate change?

When the incoming Mayor of Chicago outlines her Climate Action Plan, she needs to address policies that promote energy efficiency, clean energy jobs, green spaces, mass transit, and all the other critical pieces of the puzzles.

But addressing climate change is as much about harnessing leadership and new voices as it is about harnessing renewable energy.

For example, in the 400,000 students attending Chicago Public Schools, our city has a wealth of vibrant and potentially powerful young voices who will inevitably have to address climate change in ways that previous generations have not. Putting in place educational policies that prioritize empowering those students and preparing them to lead on climate change can have an exponential impact.

The Chicagoland area also has numerous public pensions that control billions in assets and own stock in the very companies that are driving the climate crises. Engaging those pensions and asking them to use their leverage as shareholders to push for sustainable business practices is beneficial to both their fund, and the planet.

When moving forward on any political movement it is important to ask, “what groups have a stake in solving this problem whose voice is being underutilized?” When it comes to climate change that is a very, very long list.

About Mark Mesle

Mark Mesle is the new Midwest Senior Outreach Coordinator for the National Parks Conservation Association. Mark took this position after several years of spending his days working to empower community members to fight for a healthy democracy, and his nights and weekends volunteering to empower people to fight for a healthy planet. As the Outreach Director for the Cook County Clerk’s office, Mark worked with groups and schools throughout the county to promote voter registration and civic engagement. As a climate advocate, he also organized dozens of presentations, professional development trainings, and other civic actions in support of climate action.

Mark holds a BA from the University of Iowa. He is a 2019 Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) Fellow. 

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