Middlebury alum and member of the House of Representatives Sean Casten ’93 (IL-06) spoke to students via Zoom on March 6 as a part of the Global Sustainability Alums Speaker Series. Casten’s talk, titled “A Big Step Forward on Climate; Many More Needed” is the second installment in the series co-sponsored by Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest, Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs, Climate Action Capacity Project and the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI).
Casten graduated from Middlebury in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. He then worked on cancer research for two years at Tufts University School of Medicine before earning a Master of Engineering Management and a Master of Science in Biochemical Engineering from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. In 2019 Casten left his work in the private sector to serve Illinois’ 6th Congressional District as the next step in his life’s mission to fight climate change.
The lecture kicked off with moderators Mariia Dzholos ’24 and Jack Torpey ’24 asking Casten to speak on his experience at Middlebury.
“There's something completely magical about Middlebury… Those relationships last a lifetime,” Casten said.
Casten then reflected on his professional and political experiences and his work to combat climate change, specifically focusing on energy efficiency. He spoke about his strong belief that the U.S. must take the lead in moving the world towards a sustainable future. He believes the first step is a U.S. energy policy that focuses on productivity and has its own governmental agency.
“If we can decouple economic growth from energy use, that's the whole game,” Casten said.
He is concerned by the current state of carbon emissions, explaining that 50% of all the carbon dioxide humans have ever released since the first humans made fire has been emitted since he graduated from Middlebury.
When asked who he looks to for climate action inspiration, Casten first mentioned former Vice President Al Gore because of his profound understanding of the severity of climate change. He then praised Greta Thunberg’s work, saying that she presents a perfect example of how youth activism should be done. Casten explained that Thunberg does not claim to know more than she does about climate science and that, instead of asking politicians to listen to her, she implores them to listen to the scientific reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The moderated part of the lecture was followed by a question and answer portion. In it, Casten discussed the unfortunate unreliability of carbon credits and the realities of environmental justice.
Casten left students with what he believes to be the key in making an impact in the fight against climate change. “Leverage, leverage, leverage,” he said. “Make a difference and lever it up.”
Editor’s Note: Jack Torpey ’24 is an Arts & Culture Editor for The Campus. He was not involved in the editing of this article.