Columbia for Carbon Neutrality

In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Roosevelt Energy and Environment Center, led by Roosevelters Arianna Menzelos (CC ‘21) and Meredith Harris (CC ‘21) continued to build on the success of their Columbia for Carbon Neutrality campaign. Previously, the campaign had scored an impressive victory when the Columbia College student body passed a referendum proposing that Columbia University become carbon neutral by 2030. The E&E Center continued this campaign throughout the year, culminating in Columbia University announcing new steps toward carbon neutrality in their 2020 Sustainability Plan. You can read more about their campaign highlights below!

Barnard No Aramark

In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Roosevelt Human Rights Center, led by Roosevelters Maeve Flaherty (CC ’21), Emma Gomez (CC ’19), and Jihoon Ko (CC ’22) undertook “Barnard No Aramark,” a campaign to force Barnard to change its dining services provider. Historically, Barnard has contracted its dining services out to Aramark, a multi-billion dollar corporation with a dubious track record of unsanitary food services and employee misconduct (not to mention its ties to the prison industrial complex). On November 14th, 2018, the Columbia Roosevelt Human Rights Center organized an extremely successful boycott of Barnard dining services, collecting over 1,000 signatures on their petition in opposition to Aramark. You can read more about their campaign highlights below!

ACSRI for Barnard

In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Economics and Education centers, led by Roosevelters Carolyn Kelly (BC ’21), Sinead Hunt (BC ’20), and Stephanie Grove (CC ’19), banded together to advocate for the creation of an Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) at Barnard. This proposed committee would promote transparency and accountability in the management of Barnard’s endowment by provided a clear-cut administrative avenue with which students can bring divestment proposals forward to the Board of Trustees. Below you can read coverage of their initiative and learn about their campaign successes!

Interested in writing for Roosevelt's 10 Ideas?

10 Ideas is the Roosevelt Institute's oldest and most competitive journal of student written policy. Every year, it contains policy in seven issue areas: human rights, foreign policy, education, health care, economics, energy and environment, and democratic access. The best pieces submitted in each issue area are published in a physically printed 10 Ideasjournal and the top pieces are published online. To get started with writing for 10 Ideas:

If you have any questions, email our awesome Journal Editor Rachel Knowles (rmk2156@barnard.edu) or any of the center directors!

Bigger, Wetter, Hotter! Meeting 1 Recap:

Members of the Roosevelt Institute met to discuss the recent surge of hurricanes caused by climate change, and any preventative and emergency measures that can be implemented in response. Energy and Environment co-directors Charles Watkins Harper and Adekunle Balogun led the discussion, and some compelling questions raised at the meeting were as follows: What policy lessons can be learned from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which level of government should be primarily responsible for disaster preparedness and recovery

 

An interesting point, dubbed “Mother knows best” stood out at the meeting, which described Abhinav Suresh’s point that preventative measures are a cheaper and more moral response to hurricane damage than recovery measures. He mentioned that a few billion dollars in preventative investments could save the government hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. This proposal was met with general concurrence, with people adding that the government must be held accountable for its actions in causing and perpetuating climate change, and therefore must look into preventative measures to help people who would be disproportionately affected by these weather patterns. As mentioned at the beginning of the meeting, Congress is working on a bill to provide at least $7 billion in emergency funding; however, the current administration plans to cut FEMA preparedness grants by $667 million. There was a general consensus that something had to be done to sway the government to provide aid to those who needed it.

 

There was some contention on the timeline and the appropriate method as to how to approach these policy proposals. There were multiple calls for educating and having conversations with government officials on the reality and urgency of climate change, and others argued that the appropriate response was immediate, short-term help. While conversations about climate change were important, immediate help is the difference between life and death. Additionally, with an administration more focused on feelings than facts, discussing climate change would greatly entirely stall the necessary help efforts.

 

Another popular idea was that of publically incentivizing companies in the private sector to invest in products that would strengthen infrastructure as preventative measures. These incentives included tax breaks to participating companies and marketing benefits. This policy would result in more jobs and more capital, stimulating the economy, safer infrastructure, and popular politicians. Related ideas advocated for partnerships between the public and private sphere. 

 

Ultimately, there was no agreed-upon solution to the problems raised by climate change. Regardless, policy change begins with a conversation, and the one that occurred in Roosevelt tonight raised some important questions and answers. 

Public Education Funding

October 4, 2016 – Members of the Roosevelt Institute met to discuss Public Education Funding in the United States, led by Education Center co-directors Nicki Felmus and Guy Raber. Some of the questions they asked were: is smart spending or equitable funding more important? What role does the federal government play when it comes to funding public schools?

 

One of the most popular policy solutions was the “Robin Hood” funding model, in which the property taxes from wealthy districts in a state are redistributed to poorer districts. Proponents of this idea saw this as a way to relieve some of the stark funding disparities that districts in the same state can have. Opponents to this model stressed the need for smart spending, citing the statistic that Camden, New Jersey spends more than twice the national average per student, but 90% of their students are below proficiency in several key areas. This also served as a call to reconsider the idea that education is necessarily better served by more money. It was suggested that, in every state, a smart, targeted distribution of funds would have a bigger impact. This idea was met with resistance from those who argued that any infusion of money into the country’s poorest school districts would be helpful, if only in running their day-to-day operations or to pay their teachers.

 

Much of the conversation focused on programs that would operate outside of the traditional school day. There were multiple calls for universal pre-K, something that states such as Oklahoma, Florida, and New York already have, citing the fact that children who begin their education at an earlier age typically see benefits for their entire life. Others brought up expanded afterschool and weekend activities, designed to keep students engaged in their school communities. One member brought up an idea for busses that run several hours after the end of the school day, allowing students whose parents work to participate in these afterschool activities without needing to arrange alternate transportation.

 

Another popular idea was that of a universal minimum salary for teachers in public schools. This would prevent more skilled and experienced teachers from leaving poorer schools or districts for those that can pay them more. This would combat the “teacher brain drain” that many disadvantaged or underfunded school districts see. A related idea advocated for expanded partnerships with local private universities, a relationship that some schools already take advantage of.

 

There is, in all likelihood, no single solution to how we fund our public education system. Though specific policy proposals differed, everyone agreed that something needs to be done about the state of public education in the United States, and that many of its issues stem from insufficient or ineffective funding.

The Final Frontier

By Cameron Davis

On March 22nd, the Roosevelt Institute met to discuss the issue of neutrality and conservation in space and how the increasing possibility of energy harvesting in from asteroids, planets, and other celestial bodies should be approached by the federal government. Although space exploration and exploitation seem to be far off, setting the groundwork for the future is an important step in order to guide progress for years to come. Co-Center Directors for Energy and the Environment Charles Harper and Simon Schwartz focused the discussion on four major areas – space law, mining in space, scientific missions, and contamination of space and earth environments.

Harper began the discussion by giving a run-down of some of the most important points for the day’s meeting, including lesser-known space legislation such as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which banned national appropriation of celestial bodies and outlawed weapons of mass destruction from the atmosphere; the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 which permits all private and commercial satellites and launches; and, most recently, the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015, a bill that died in committee that would have regulated development of property rights for states and companies alike on claims to celestial bodies. By framing the debate with the key current legislation on the topic, Harper and Schwartz contextualized how contemporary international bodies and federal governments alike are approaching outer space.

The discussion naturally began, then, with whether either public or private missions should be allowed to use extraterrestrial resources for survival, fuel, mining, or other personal uses. The debate on this point was heated: while many Roosevelt members feared that over-regulating space could discourage private entities from becoming involved and ultimately stunt scientific progress, several other members were more cautious. “If governments don’t regulate these corporations,” seemed to be the thinking, “what’s to stop them from making unsafe, reckless, and exploitative decisions just in the name of profit?”

With that question still unanswered, Schwartz went on to re-contextualize the debate within the purview of space ecosystems – how important, exactly, is environmental consideration of celestial bodies, and to what extent should conservation be prioritized over lucrative resource extraction? This question proved to be quite contentious, dividing the room into two primary factions: one was all too cognizant of the mistakes made with our own earth and warned that without heavy regulation, our actions could similarly destroy the delicate environments of thousands of other bodies; the other group demanded a more humanist line of thought, explaining that by using other planets to our advantage we could live more at peace with our own earth without putting undue stress on the resources it gives us.

The discussion took a brief detour before final thoughts thanks to an interruption by an individual representing Mama Aerospace (http://www.mamaaerospace.com/), who used the time that he was given when called upon to pitch his own personal deep space transportation company and ask for general feedback about the policy implications of his initiative. The individual brought a sense of realism and practicality to the otherwise nebulous policy discussion, and helped underscore the importance of the topic in policymaking for the not-so-distant future.

Ultimately, participants in the discussion were unable to come to a consensus about how the United States and international bodies should regulate outer space (if at all) and deal with the crossroads between scientific exploration and environmental responsibility. Even though it may be difficult, continuing one without the expense of the other should be the focus of future policy decisions.

Raising the Minimum Wage and Alternative Options

By Jason Zhao

16 February 2016 — With election season in full swing, debate over raising the minimum wage continues to rage on across the country in town halls and on stage. This past Tuesday, the Roosevelt Institute at Columbia University discussed both policy solutions and possible alternatives for minimum wages.

Perhaps the most well known policy is current presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $15. This more than doubles the current $7.25 rate, leaving some members concerned that this increase would cause significant job loss especially among small business owners who employ two-thirds of all Americans.

Additionally, this policy brought up the question of whether minimum wage should be determined at a federal, state, or local level. Establishing minimum wage at a local level would certainly be the most robust by allowing large metropolitan areas like New York City to set a rate independent of rural upstate regions; however, the issue of practicality arose which pushed the solution towards the state level.

Two of the most popular alternatives to a minimum wage that were discussed are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a universal basic income (UBI). The former functions as a subsidy for low-to-moderate income individuals, particularly workers with children, by boosting income as much as $3000 per year. Proponents of EITCs argue that it provides an important incentive to work and that it has the capacity to keep an additional estimated 11 million people out of poverty. More specifically, the economic impact of EITCs are twofold: direct subsidization and indirect wage increases from a greater number of people in the workforce. A UBI, on the other hand, is a system that provides an unconditional income to every citizen, indiscriminately. This has the added potential of drastically reducing administrative welfare spending and by some estimates, could provide every citizen in the US with $8000 per year of income if all other welfare spending stopped. Supporters of UBI argue that it provides low-income individuals with much more freedom in both spending and saving their money. The “Alaska Permanent Fund,” for example, pays every resident of Alaska $2000 a year and has made Alaska’s poverty rate one of the lowest in the country. In fact, Alaska is the only state to become more economically equal in the past 30 years.

Opponents of the EITC saw it simply as a band-aid to the United States’s already badly bleeding welfare system. They argued that a UBI would be a much more efficient way of helping low-income individuals, not only giving them more bargaining power against employers, but also as a means of providing financial compensation for familial caretaking. Others maintained that a UBI provides no incentive to work and is much more easily manipulated. Rather, we should focus on improving our current welfare system.

Bridging the gap, one solution released by the Brookings Institute in 2014 garnered wide support from the group for its relatively moderate measures. These included increasing the minimum wage to $10.10, indexing for inflation, and providing more generous EITC stipends for families with young children. Most economists agree that this approximately 39% increase in minimum wage would have little effect on job loss, and many members praised inflation indexing. While the merits of the ETIC and UBI were hotly contested, one thing was apparent at this weeks meeting: we need new policy to address the insufficiencies of the minimum wage now.

Flint Water Crisis

by Madeline Ducharme

On February 9th, 2016, the Roosevelt Institute at Columbia University discussed the extremely relevant and pressing topic of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. With the concentrations of lead in Flint’s water far surpassing basic human health standards, there has been outcry from all over the country. People are considering Flint’s crisis as a case of environmental racism as the community affected is comprised largely of people of color as well as people living below the United States poverty line.

Headed by the Roosevelt’s co-presidents of environment, Charles and Nikita, we considered drastic policy solutions that included the complete overhaul of Flint’s water infrastructure as well as the implementation of a new “sexier” New Deal (truly in the spirit of Roos himself). The discussion also dealt with the issue of responsibility. While many supported the immediate resignation of the mayor of Flint and the governor of Michigan, others found this action to be too extreme and a waste of Flint’s quickly depleting financial resources. The argument over this mostly boiled down to the difference between ideology and action; some found the the lack of immediate prosecution of the mayor and governor a potentially dangerous precedent to set while others believed that all government funds should be focused on dealing with the crisis at hand, bearing in mind that there is little time to find replacements for these positions if the two men were to resign.

Roosevelt discussed some of the intense implications that this crisis has on United States infrastructure overall due to the fact that Flint is by no means the only city dealing with dangerously contaminated water. The economic aspects of this issue were also hotly contested amongst the group. This became quickly became a rather divisive issue for Roosevelt as members debated whether the municipal, state, or federal government should pay for the intense repairs that need to be undertaken. Despite the back-and-forth on infrastructure, resignations, and economics, Roosevelt disbanded Tuesday night with the overwhelming sentiment of the fact that water is a human right and we, as a highly developed country, cannot allow for crises to escalate like this.