Last Thursday, students, professors, and members of the Colgate community braved icy temperatures and snowy paths to learn how they, as citizens, could most effectively join the fight against global warming. Currently serving his third term as the Sierra Club’s president, University of North Carolina professor Dr. Robert J. Cox capped off a day of meeting with students and speaking to classes with an evening lecture on global warming and the United States’ environmental movement. Instead of delivering a doom and gloom sermon on the inevitability of the effects of global warming, Cox offered an uplifting presentation rich with examples of the environmental movement’s successes and attainable goals.
After citing the Sierra Club’s objective of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2050, Cox proposed a structure for strategic campaigns aimed at achieving that goal. Such campaigns consist of three primary components requiring identification: objectives, target audiences and strategies.
In presenting a method to encourage investment in clean energy firms, Cox described the California Clean Cars Campaign and its potential to revolutionize America’s automobile industry. Thirteen states in all, comprising 47 percent of Detroit’s market, pledged to adopt California’s law upon EPA approval. Requiring all cars sold in these states to emit 30 percent less carbon dioxide by 2020, this new standard would force car manufacturers to convert all fleets to hybrid models or suffer debilitating losses. While Cox noted that the Bush-appointed EPA administrator opposes the campaign, he expressed optimism that come January 2009 incoming officials will not hesitate to approve the law.
Cox’s optimism continued to invigorate his lecture as he presented other initiatives on which local governments and environmental groups are currently collaborating. For example, on the day of his lecture the 952nd U.S. city mayor signed on to the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities campaign. Cox hopes that American urban areas’ efforts towards curbing global warming will signal to investors that supporting clean energy suppliers will prove economically wise.
“If initiatives like this and the Clean Cars Campaign were publicized more, I think people would be more optimistic about our ability to fight global warming,” sophomore Carly Green said. “Once people see that positive change is possible, they will be inclined to join the movement.”
While some of Cox’s statistics seemed a tad extreme – for example, 97 percent of energy needs can be met using alternatives to fossil fuels by 2050 – the audience seemed very receptive to his energy and hope.
“It was refreshing to hear someone so optimistic about the prospects of global warming,” junior Isaac Syrop said.
However, Cox was sure to clarify that his optimism was time sensitive. According to Cox, after three or four years, our window for effective environmental action may pass, and we could face devastating consequences of global warming. Cox characterized this window using the Greek term Kairos, defining it as “a passing instant in which an opening appears,” or the “knife edge” of an historical moment. Imploring the audience to exercise their democratic rights and take action, Cox ended his talk with both urgency and positivity.
Walking through the $52 million Ho Science Center after the lecture, students contemplated the new space with respect to the information they just received.
“Why didn’t Colgate make this building more environmentally sensitive if all of that information was available?” sophomore Katie Holland said.
With the nation in the midst of an economic downturn and the price of crude oil recently hitting a record $103.95 per barrel, Cox’s assertion that “energy defines an economy” rings especially true.