UW News

March 10, 2020

UW faculty join radio debate on climate change solutions

UW News

When Dan Schwartz and Kate Simonen face off in a KUOW debate this week, they will assume opposing sides on an issue both feel passionately — and similarly — about: reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The difference between them lies in the deadline: What should Washington aim for, right now?

On March 11, KUOW’s That’s Debatable will highlight a goal, based on the state’s own policies and recommendations — “Washington State Can Decarbonize in a Decade” — and feature Schwartz, Simonen, and local youth activists Julia Barnett and Sarah Starman. The event will be broadcast live from the KUOW studios at 7 p.m. The event was originally scheduled before a live audience at Seattle University but was relocated due to public health guidance regarding large gatherings.

Kate Simonen

Simonen, upcoming chair of the University of Washington Department of Architecture and director of the Carbon Leadership Forum, focuses on building materials and the carbon emissions of a building over its lifetime. The Carbon Leadership Forum brings together academics and building industry professionals working to eliminate embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure by inspiring innovation and spurring change through collective action. Last fall they introduced the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, or EC3 tool, which is a free tool for architects, engineers, owners, construction companies, building material suppliers and policy makers to evaluate and reduce embodied carbon emissions from construction materials.

Dan Schwartz

Schwartz is a UW professor of chemical engineering and director of the Clean Energy Institute, which supports development of next-generation solar energy and battery materials and devices, and integrating them with systems and the grid. Created by the state in 2013, the institute’s mission is to “accelerate the adoption of a scalable clean energy future that will improve the health and economy of our state, nation and world.”

So the irony is not lost on Schwartz that, in this debate, he’s arguing the “con” side of decarbonizing — or lowering greenhouse gas emissions to zero — in a decade. Simonen will argue the “pro.”

But for Schwartz, it’s not about whether lowering emissions is a good idea — that gets a resounding “yes.” It’s about setting what he sees as realistic targets and time frames.

“I am the most optimistic person about how we’re going to tackle this problem, but I want us to focus on the real challenges, and I believe Washington focusing its attention on 100% elimination of emissions from energy use in 10 years we take our eyes off the most important prize, which is decarbonizing the planet,” he said.

Schwartz said he supports goals that have realistic pathways to success, like the Clean Energy Transformation Act or a low-carbon fuel standard, because they provide wins along the way, reduce fear of change, and empower people to do more.

KUOW’s That’s Debatable, moderated by Ross Reynolds, will air live at 7 p.m. Wednesday on KUOW 94.9 FM, streaming at kuow.org and on Facebook.


“When you start with a goal that’s unachievable, you don’t get started, And when you don’t get started, you don’t learn how to go faster,” Schwartz said.

Simonen, meanwhile, is enthusiastic about the chance to engage the public on the issue. She wants listeners to recognize the urgency of climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that there are steps everyone can take to be part of that solution.

Simonen approaches the topic from a construction angle: the carbon impacts of buildings and infrastructure. Buildings, she pointed out, are responsible for over 40% of global carbon emissions.

“Science-based targets tell us that globally emissions must reduce by over 50% in the next decade,” she said. “While our work at the Carbon Leadership Forum at UW is keenly focused on building material impacts, we’ve been interacting with global organizations setting regional decarbonization targets, and I will bring knowledge about these initiatives to inform the debate.”

Both Simonen and Schwartz want listeners to come away with a sense of optimism and opportunity.

“We in Washington have an opportunity and responsibility to be global leaders,” Simonen said.