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Six takeaways from the U of R Climate Teach-In

U of R students join more than 500 schools and universities around the world in participating in the Global Teach-In on Climate and Justice. (Photo by Carlos Puma)

Distilling topics like the science of composting, processing climate anxiety, or sustainable business practices into a 5-minute-long speech is no easy task. But University of Redlands students, faculty, and staff members rose to the challenge during the April 7 Global Teach-In on Climate and Justice.

The U of R joined more than 500 schools and universities around the world in participating in the event, which was initiated by the Bard Institute for Sustainability. Its aim was to engage communities in critical dialogue on solutions to climate change.

“Solving climate change requires persistent and collective action. But according to Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, scholar, and activist, the most important thing we can do to fight climate change right now is talk about it,” said Professor of Environmental Studies Valerie Rountree, who led the Climate Teach-In committee.

The gathering featured 32 speakers who offered interdisciplinary perspectives on the science, results, solutions, experiences, and narratives of climate change. Here are ten takeaways from the event.

1. Climate action is a collective concern.

“Climate change is something that affects all of us, not just those who are involved in the environmental field,” said Students for Environmental Action President Rosario Cardenas ’23.

Victoria Christopher ’23, a member of the Sustainability Council, reinforced Cardenas’ perspective: “It’s no longer a conversation about polar bears or people from far away countries who are losing their homes to rising sea levels. This is, and will continue to be, a problem in our own back yards,” she said. 

2. Different approaches can be used to counter ambivalence about climate change.

Ranging from the use of geographic information systems to psychological strategies, translating the effects of climate change to appeal to peoples’ emotions is crucial.

“We can grasp the concept of terrorism more easily than climate change because we can envision it,” said Susan Goldstein, a professor of psychology. Examples of strategies that could work to mitigate climate change include nudging (for example, placing recycling bins in every office instead of in one central location) or reverse socialization (where children influence parents instead of vice versa).

Alternately, Director of the Center for Spatial Studies Steven Moore presented on the importance of utilizing Esri StoryMaps to help people visualize important data. “People believe the better story,” he said. “So, we have to tell good stories based on good data.”

3. Carbon dioxide is bad for the environment, but methane gas is worse.

During her presentation, Professor Lisa Olson explained the science of composting to the chemical level. She noted that when cities don’t have proper composting procedures, excess food waste enters landfills and produces methane gas—a chemical compound that harms the atmosphere.

Professors Renee Van Vechten and James Krueger also touched on this concept in their respective talks. Van Vechten, who teaches political science, proposed policy solutions at the local, state, and federal levels that could potentially reduce food waste, while Krueger, who teaches philosophy, spoke about agricultural initiatives needed to halt the spread of malaria and other infectious diseases.

Theatre Arts Professor Gregory Ramos performs a piece that draws on his childhood memories of exploring textiles with his grandmother during a session dedicated to the expression of climate anxiety. (Photo by Carlos Puma)

4. Process and express climate anxiety with the help of a creative outlet.

A group dedicated to the expression of climate anxiety featured professors from the art, creative writing, and theatre arts departments.

Gregory Ramos performed a piece that drew on his childhood memories of exploring textiles with his grandmother while noting how difficult it is to find fabrics that don’t incorporate plastic. Penny McElroy read a poem and displayed a video piece that juxtaposed fire and other natural disasters with flowers and other natural wonders. Alisa Slaughter led listeners through a writing practice that encouraged participants to consider their surroundings and how they are changing.

Other speakers emphasized how aesthetics can creatively address the impacts of climate change—Johnston Center for Integrative Studies Director and Science and Media Studies Professor Tim Seiber spoke to “nomad architecture” for refugees of climate crises, and Professor of Art Munro Galloway focused on examples of climate-centered performance art.

5. The effects of climate change are unique in California.

Oceans, drought, and wildfires were common motifs throughout the program. Martín Hoecker-Martinez, who teaches physics, outlined how oceans are used as a climate buffer. To protect the surface of the earth from heat, energy slowly seeps into the depths of the ocean. Professor of Environmental Studies Hillary Jenkins warned listeners that weather in California will only become more extreme as climate change ensues.

Taking a hyperlocal perspective, Sophia Rockne ’22 spoke to the impact of fossil fuels on air pollution, as coming from the logistics industry and wildfires. Her presentation examined how economic methods can be used to measure the impacts of these pollutants, which affect residents’ health.

“California is unique,” Rockne said. “We’re polluted by fires and fossil fuels.”

6. At the U of R, departments and student groups are localizing climate awareness.

Facilities Management Director Roger Cellini spoke about the evolution of climate concern as it related to operations on U of R campuses. The department’s future goals include erecting parking structures to collect solar power, adding more electric vehicle charging stations, and aiming for carbon neutrality in the design and construction of the forthcoming University Village development.

Alternately, Director of Sustainable Learning Erin Sanborn outlined the various student-run programs that are working against climate change, including the Sustainable University of Redlands Farm (SURF), the California Climate Action Corps and its treestock program, and farm-to-fork dinners in partnership with Harvest Table Culinary Group, the dining services provider at the U of R. SURF grew out of a student’s idea to improve the long-term sustainability of the main Redlands campus, and now the farm donates half of the food it produces and sells the other half to Harvest Table to feed students.

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