In 2017, Dr. Stan Meiburg became the Director of Graduate Studies in Sustainability at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, following a 39-year career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From 2014 to 2017, Dr. Meiburg served as EPA’s Acting Deputy Administrator, the agency’s second highest position.
Before becoming Deputy Administrator, Dr. Meiburg served in senior career positions as EPA’s Deputy Regional Administrator in the Southeast and South Central regions of the United States, as well as in EPA offices in Research Triangle Park and in Washington, DC. He received EPA’s Distinguished Career Service Award, EPA’s Gold Medal for his work on the Clean Air Act Amendments, the Commander’s Award for Public Service from the Department of the Army, and the Distinguished Federal Executive award, the highest civilian award for a Federal senior executive. He is currently chair of the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission, a member of the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.
Dr. Meiburg holds a B.A. degree from Wake Forest University, and masters and doctoral degrees in political science from The Johns Hopkins University.
What motivated you to work on the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing Climate Change?
I had the great good fortune of starting at the Environmental Protection Agency, almost by accident, when the agency and I were both still relatively young. Over the course of my career, the interrelationships between natural resource use, public health, ecosystem protection, social equity, infrastructure, resiliency and a changing climate have become more and more obvious. Yet conversations among communities of practice in each of these areas started out as rather segmented. My chief motivation at this stage of my life is to help connect these conversations.
How would you describe the government's role in the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing climate change?
On climate especially, government has to lead. This does not mean having either a fully overarching vision nor being in control of every action or every plan. But it is essential that government be directionally correct, that the rhetoric of government leaders recognize the challenge we face, that all elements of government align about the importance of the climate challenge, and that all elements of government work together with business, NGO’s, and citizens to enable all to do what they can.
Sustainable use of natural resources is a part of that but has its own special aspect. “Natural resources” covers a lot of ground, from minerals to soils and forests. A renewable energy economy will need such resources just as a fossil fuel economy has done. The sustainability challenge is not just to use them wisely, as important as that is. It is also to sustain the values and functioning of ecosystems and heritage sites such as national parks, forests, and the sacred spaces of indigenous peoples.
What, according to you, is(are) the biggest challenge(s) when it comes to the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing climate change? What could be the solution(s)?
It’s somewhat misleading to identify any one challenge as “the biggest”, as they are all interrelated. But a particular challenge is to find useful substitutes for the use of fossil fuels in industrial processes that require high heat input (think, for example, of cement manufacturing). There are a range of possible solutions, ranging from material substitutions to low temperature processing to as yet unknown means of generating high temperatures without using fossil fuels.
What are some projects or recent developments in this field that you are most excited about?
Three developments seem especially hopeful to me. The first is simply that this conversation is now front of mind, on a par with (and, of course, related to) urgent conversations and social and economic equity. The second is the engagement of the private sector, especially the investment and insurance communities, in recognizing the business risks associated with a changing climate (including the risks of stranded assets and the value of placing a price on carbon) and making an awareness of these risks a central principle in making financial decisions. The third is the potential for radical transformation in the transportation sector in the move away from the internal combustion engine as we have known it for more than a century.