By Emmy Liederman
After President Donald Trump appointed multiple climate change skeptics to his Cabinet, Jonathan Lu, a senior computer science major at Princeton University, knew he had a duty to advocate for change. Instead of just raising awareness on Princeton’s campus, Lu was determined to make waves on a national level.
Lu spoke at the Education Building Room 107 on April 25 to encourage any students who may share his interests to join his research team, which consists of a diverse group of Princeton high school, undergraduate and graduate students who have come together to do something about climate change.
Before beginning his efforts last May, Lu was not an environmental specialist — he was just an average student who cared a lot about climate reform and strived to be politically active. As the research director of the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, he is well on his way of doing just that.
“I don’t actually have any formal background on (environmental policy) — people of all backgrounds can help conduct this research,” he said. “This is something that we are desperately understaffed on. There is a lot of research that still needs to be done.”
The Princeton Student Climate Initiative advocates for a national carbon and pollution tax policy. Lu believes this tax is a bipartisan solution to climate change that will reduce air pollutant emissions while protecting the economy. The more energy condensed a pollutant is, the more it would be affected by the tax.
“Proposing a carbon tax will target fossil fuels, making it more expensive to pollute,” he said. “If you are choosing between using solar or coal to run your powerplant, a carbon tax would put coal at a less competitive price, making it cheaper to use solar.”
Although Lu and his team have dreams of making national change, they know their advocacy must start at the state level. Team members have been working with New Jersey Assemblyman and physicist Andrew Zwicker to develop their ideas into public policy.
“We have a few state legislatures that are interested,” Lu said. “Right now, we are trying to talk to a lot of New Jersey environmental groups and get their support before we introduce a bill. Then we can start lobbying our state representatives.”
Lu believes that in a state like New Jersey, where residents are deeply affected by and are passionate about climate change, it would not be difficult to garner support for his initiative.
“Climate change is really threatening in New Jersey,” he said. “Coastal residents are especially at risk of needing to relocate and fossil fuel emissions are the cause of 8,000 premature deaths in New Jersey each year. If we cut emissions by implementing this tax, we can improve health and see economic benefits by spending less on asthma and lung cancer treatment.”
The plan is also widely favored by economists because the tax revenue is returned to households, according to Lu. The revenue increases disposable income while promoting a environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
“This is a just and effective climate policy that incorporates the needs of all communities,” he said.
Lu believes that with the support of local politicians, dedicated research and a relentless attitude, his team has a real potential to make environmental change.
“With Phil Murphy in office, it is a great time to take leadership on climate change,” he said. “We get really excited by this because it is not just an environmental policy on a college campus — this is affecting the eight million people that live in New Jersey and potentially setting an example for the world.”