Campus Focused on Climate Change

Posted: February 1, 2008

Professor of art Joseph Smith recently read Elizabeth Kolbert's book Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.

"It scared me to death," he said, just before turning out the lights and leaving the audience gathered in Chapin Auditorium in darkened silence--his interpretation of Kolbert's message.

Smith's performance art was part of "No Degrees of Separation: MHC Speaks Out on Global Warming," one of three panel discussions offered to the campus and local community January 31 in Mount Holyoke's Focus the Nation program. More than 1,750 colleges and universities joined in the nation's largest-ever teach-in, dedicated to creating a dialogue on climate change solutions.

The evening panel featured Smith and seven other faculty and staff members--Jeremy King, Angela F. Dickens, Corinne Demas, Persa Batra, Mary Jo Maydew, Jill Bubier, and Jens Christiansen--from departments ranging from history and English, to geology and economics, along with Lisa Brunie '06, the environmental coordinator for Canon Corporation. Each presented a segment on global warming from his or her disciplinary perspective. King, a professor of history, compared today's climate change to the French revolution and the Holocaust as both a history-changing event and a political and moral test.

"Where do we stand, and what will we be able to say we did?" he asked.

Bubier, Marjorie Fisher Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, noted the Arctic ice cap has lost 50 percent of its volume since the 1950s and warned, "We're carrying on this uncontrolled experiment on the planet … and we need to stop now."

The MHC events kicked off January 30 with an evening of environmentally themed music from Erica Wheeler and storytelling by Marge Bruchac, but a planned community viewing of the Focus the Nation Webcast "The 2% Solution" fell through when the national organizers became victims of their own success: So many viewers attempted to log on that the Web site couldn't handle the demand. Sandra Postel, Leslie and Sarah Miller Director of the Center for the Environment, said the video is now posted on the national Web site (see below) for those who missed it.

The first panel discussion of the main day was titled "Political, Personal, Powerful: Activism for Climate Change." Danielle Connor FP '06 spoke about her work in Costa Rica and Brazil, while Maya Winfrey discussed Co-op Power, and Elizabeth Cooper '10 talked about participating in the PowerShift gathering in Washington, DC, this past November. San Francisco native Tracy Zhu '08 presented a city dweller's take on the environment, and Megan Durling '09, a volunteer for Clean Water Action, talked about being "a quiet activist."

"I've never been at a rally requiring police intervention," Durling said. "I love to build bridges and talk to people, especially those who disagree with me."

During the afternoon panel on stewardship, President Joanne V. Creighton told the audience environmental concerns have long been a priority at MHC.

"There is excellent work being done across the campus," she said. That claim was supported by Todd Holland, the energy manager for Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Amherst Colleges, who reported MHC's carbon footprint is less than that of its peers.

"Most of the energy in the U.S. goes into buildings--and that means we can do something about our energy picture nationally and at MHC," Holland said. Although new technology has led to an increase in the use of electricity on campus despite conservation efforts, MHC has decreased its thermal use by 10 percent over the past decade, he noted; the College is working to reduce its carbon emissions to its 1990 level by 2010 and by another 10 percent by 2020.

Facilities planning and management director John Bryant described a variety of steps the College has taken in energy use and recovery, green building construction, and cogeneration to reduce its use of fossil fuels.

"The greenest energy is the energy not used," he said.

The stewardship panel, which also included Nancy Apple, Molly Buermann '09, and Five College recycling manager Roger Guzowski, served as the launch of a Focus the Campus initiative, a program that is challenging each MHC office, department, and organization to make a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint and set three goals that can be met by the end of the spring semester. Apple, director of environmental health and safety, shared tips on replacing light bulbs, double-sided printing, turning off equipment, and green computing.

"We ask you to sign the campus pledge [see below] and spread the word," Apple said.

The MHC observance of Focus the Nation also included a classroom focus; all faculty were asked to devote a portion of their first class of the semester to discussing climate change from a disciplinary perspective. Postel said the contribution to the MHC events from faculty, students, and staff "was just amazing."

"With the enhanced knowledge and sense of community we've achieved around this critical issue of global climate change, Mount Holyoke is well positioned to continue leading on environmental stewardship among campuses nationwide," Postel said. "It will take time to assess the full impact of Focus the Nation, both nationally and here on our own campus. But I do believe we've contributed well to something big and important."

Related Links:

Photo Gallery

Listen to Some Panelists

Focus the Nation

Environmental Stewardship

Center for the Environment