This Wednesday, the Climate Action Movement at the University of Michigan hosted an event focused on building the climate change movement on campus. Held in the Annenberg Auditorium at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the event attracted about 100 students, faculty and community members.
The event began with four panelists discussing the most pressing issues concerning climate change and how to address them, followed by a small group breakout session in which students brainstormed their own ideas about the issues and finished with a large group discussion.
Engineering junior Logan Vear, president of the Climate Action Movement at the University of Michigan, started off the event by explaining the goal of bringing community members together to figure out how best to address climate issues and make a change in the University and larger Ann Arbor community.
“Although we do not have the power to change things at the global level, taking action and influencing change at the local level is just as important, if not even more so,” Vear said. “Many people and individuals within our communities, such as you all, have already been actively working to make sustainable changes, but we can’t do this alone. We have to come together, and that’s exactly what this is today.”
The panelists who spoke at the event were Adam Simon, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University; Joshua MacDonald, energy coordinator for Ann Arbor; Dominic Bednar, third-year PhD student in Environment and Sustainability and Rackham student Fern MacDougal, who studies conservation energy.
The panel responded to questions about what challenges hinder the University’s progress when it comes to fighting climate change and what steps students and community members might take to tackle them. Adam Simon, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University highlighted faculty members’ lack of acknowledgment of the magnitude and complexity of the issues concerning climate change we face as a major obstacle to progress. He emphasized the importance of seeking help in improving sustainability initiatives.
“I think if we were willing to accept that we don’t have to know everything nor can we, then we would make progress at a much faster right,” Simon said.
Dominic Bednar, third-year PhD student in Environment and Sustainability emphasized the importance of emphasizing diversity within the climate change movement.
“Climate change disproportionately affects low income people of color, so how do we weave those people into the conversation to, again, help us understand,” Bednar said. “We don’t necessarily have all the answers, but when you put a diverse group of people together you’re able to innovate much more rapidly.”
Simon also proposed that the multitude of clubs on campus focused on climate change should come together to ensure their collective impact is lasting.
“Your time on campus is finite,” Simon said. “You are here, you are loud, you’re gonna leave. And you have to make sure when you’re gone the next group of students is going to be as loud as you are.”
Following the panel, attendees split into small groups to discuss the ideas put forth by the panelists. A list of prompts were projected on the front of the room, encouraging attendees to brianstorm the best ways to take action.
Students also shared what brought them to the event. LSA sophomore Aviva Nemeth said she wanted to learn how to do more to fight climate change.
“I’m here because I don’t really know that much about what’s happening on the Ann Arbor level or on the University level beyond, like, putting compost bins in the dorms,” Neveth said.
While in groups, attendees were also encouraged to submit words or phrases into a word bubble which was subsequently projected and used to guide the whole group discussion. Some of the most prominent words and phrases were “accountability,” “intersectionality,” “strike” and “reaching across the aisle.”
The leaders of the event then picked out major words and asked attendees to share what they had discussed in their groups. LSA sophomore Basil Alsubee shared his ideas on the point of bringing more diverse voices into the climate change movement.
“A lot of the times as a person of color, you know, communities of color, we have an issue where we, for various reasons, are a little bit cynical about the climate change movement, and it’s not very high on our list of priorities,” Alsubee said. “The question of bringing more people of color into rooms like this, to enter this conversation where it’s not sort of seen as a conversation for quote, unquote ‘hipster white people’, I think is a major, major obstacle we have to overcome.”