Climate Policy Director Rhiana Gunn-Wright spoke to the Penn State community on climate change | University Park Campus News

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy hosted the “Climate Change is Everyone’s Fight — Including Yours!” lecture from Rhiana Gunn-Wright to an audience of about 150 people in the Thomas Building 7 p.m. Thursday.

Gunn-Wright said this is her first public appearance since 2020 and having a child. Right now, she’s a director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute.

“It’s my first time leaving the house with pants,“ she said.

Gunn-Wright has served as a part of the policy team with former First Lady Michelle Obama and a policy lead of Abdul El-Sayed’s 2018 Michigan gubernatorial campaign, according to her page on the Roosevelt Institute’s website.

Gunn-Wright also worked with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to draft the Green New Deal, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human sources, while also creating high-wage jobs, according to the United States House of Representatives Resolution.

An audience member applauds to the speaker at a climate change event at the Thomas Building on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022 in University Park, Pa.

Taran Samarth said they believe that the new energy model would benefit more than just the planet.

“It’ll redo the economy at a macro level,” Samarth (senior-political science, mathematics, philosophy and sociology) said.

Lauren O’Rourke said that she believes people need to focus more on the human side of climate change.

“When we think about climate change, we think of the obvious scary things and forget the human aspect,” O’Rourke (junior-political science) said.

One example Gunn-Wright showed was a garbage incinerator in the center of the city.

“[Detroit] is a lovely place, but it’s also a hotbed for environmental injustice,” Gunn-Wright said.

She said children who were raised near the incinerator were being diagnosed with asthma at three times the state average.

Climate Change, Peter Buck

Peter Buck, academic programs manager – Sustainability institute, listens to Rhiana Gun-Wright at the Climate Change event at the Thomas Building on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022 in University Park, Pa.

“There were so many kids with asthma on our block that we thought it was a childhood illness, like, you just get it and hope you grow out of it,” Gunn-Wright said.

Gunn-Wright said when she witnessed that at her time with the Detroit Health Department, she became interested in policy making.

“I remember talking to one activist, and she had witnessed multiple people on her block die from mysterious cancer,” Gunn-Wright Said, “She wore a mask to bed so she didn’t wake up choking on fumes.”

Hails Reily said she attended the event for her quantitative math class.

“Putting things in human terms makes us want to work toward these issues,” Reily (sophomore-art history) said.


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