Babbitt Calls for Political Consensus at Geopolitical Summit

Bruce Babbitt, former United States secretary of the interior, is calling for political consensus to deal with the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Babbitt was the guest speaker at FIU’s second annual Geopolitical Summit Oct. 19, during a session hosted by the School of Environment, Arts and Society at the Biscayne Bay Campus.  Using the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a starting point for his talk, Babbitt addressed the big-picture implications for long-term public policy for the environment.

“How do we move away from our reliance on oil? And how do we deal with the collateral damage being caused? It’s not just Louisiana and not just tar balls on the beach in Pensacola,” Babbitt said. “For Florida, there are many oncoming changes. The most immediate and difficult is rising sea levels.”

Because Florida is home to millions of people and vast amounts of concentrated infrastructure, Babbitt said the idea of doing nothing and retreating at the last moment is out of the question.

“It’s time to start planning and begin to use the science and public policy to bring together the political consensus to act,” Babbitt said.

Babbitt, served as secretary of the interior under President Bill Clinton from 1993 until 2001. During his tenure, he actively worked to protect scenic and historic areas of America’s federal public lands. He tackled both complex and controversial issues in public land management resulting in reforms to mining, grazing and endangered species law. He was a pivotal figure in the drafting of plans to restore the Everglades and Florida Bay, the largest environmental restoration project in United States history.

Addressing nearly 400 people at the Wolfe University Center, Babbitt also participated in a panel discussion about public policy and the oil spill. Other panelists included: James Fourqurean, professor of Biological Sciences; Laura Ogden, associate professor of Global and Sociocultural Studies; and Heidi Scott, eco-critic and assistant professor of English. Michael Heithaus, director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society at FIU, was the moderator.

Tuesday’s panel discussion was the final of three plenary sessions during the two-day summit, which focused on poverty, health and sustainability. The first two sessions were held on Monday, at the Graham Center Ballrooms on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Monday’s guest speakers were Paul Collier, professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, who discussed “The Bottom Billion: the Challenges of Poverty in the World”, and Len Nichols, professor of health policy and director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University, who discussed “Challenges to Health Care Reform in the U.S. and Beyond.”

Besides the School of Environment, Arts and Society, the summit also served to spotlight FIU’s School of International and Public Affairs and Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.