Colgate Focuses on Climate Change

Kate Preziosi

Last Thursday, more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the United States participated in Focus the Nation, a day of discussion concerning the critical decisions on climate change that this generation must face. The film screenings, panel discussions, art exhibitions and concerts held on campus were the culmination of a semester’s worth of planning for the students that coordinated Colgate’s participation.

On Wednesday, January 30 night and again on Friday, the Hamilton Theater gave a free screening of The 11th Hour, a film produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio that explores how we live, how we impact the Earth’s ecosystems and what we can do to change our carbon footprint.

A series of panel discussions began the next morning at 8:30 a.m., and continued throughout the day. Tackling such issues as “Climate Change and the Developing World,” “What Should Colgate Do?” and “Thinking in the Long Term,” faculty and students alike were able to engage one another in an open forum and discuss progressive global warming solutions.

At the “Climate Change and Political Activism” panel, four Colgate students joined Joan Mandle, former Colgate professor and now executive director of Democracy Matters, in discussing the rewarding and difficult aspects of participating in grassroots activism. President ofa the College Democrats and former leader of the Colgate chapter of Democracy Matters senior Lydia Gottesfeld spoke about the power of youth in making a difference.

“We’ve seen such a movement toward environmental change,” she said. “It’s a prominent issue in the election and politics today, and it came from young people. We’re coming out to vote, and it shows. This year, something’s happening. Make them work for your vote.”

Mandle continued that message by stressing the importance of building a unified movement for global climate change.

“You have to join with others, you just do,” she said. “That’s the only way you’ll beat dollars. You have to find a way to have hope and give people hope. You have a presidential race right now where candidates are speaking to this issue in order to get your vote. When they’re elected, hold their feet to the fire. Push back on corporate interests. Say, ‘we vote,’ and you’re out unless you work for a change.”

In response to one attendee’s question about why there isn’t a more unified, visible campaign for climate change, Mandle responded that it’s all about taking baby steps.

“Large scale, utopian schemes are just that,” she said. “They won’t be. We have to learn to move slowly and with passion for the big change.”

Among the more heavily attended events of the day was a presentation of select photographs taken by The Canary Project, a campaign that produces artwork to capture the effects human-induced climate change. Sophomore Sam Zuhlke was one of the many attendees who filled Golden Auditorium for the exhibition and reception.

“I thought it was very powerful,” Zuhlke said. “The pictures are blown up and they really hit you in the face. It’s one thing to talk about the effects of changing climate – it’s another thing to see it.”

Photographs from The Canary Project will be featured on the Second Floor Exhibition Space in Little Hall through February 16.

Focus the Nation formally concluded on Thursday night in the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center with a vegetarian dinner accompanied by a discussion titled “What’s Next?”

Student Government Association President Rob Sobelman ’08 commented on the initiatives for reducing Colgate’s carbon footprint that are currently in progress.

“My Vice President, Jenny [Dorland], and I went door-to-door during our campaign last spring to see what it was that Colgate students wanted to see changed,” Sobelman said. “Time and time again, people mentioned the environment. We heard practical solutions, like having more recycling bins on campus, andlong-term solutions, like making Colgate carbon neutral. We’re trying to combine these.”

Sophomore Lindsey Jacobson was one of the students who attended the Powershift 2007 youth summit for climate change. In the wake of that weekend, she and the other attendees have been actively working to make changes on campus similar to those of which Sobelman spoke.

“One of the big goals we have is to bring a sustainability coordinator to campus,” Jacobson said. “That’s someone whose full time job is to work on making Colgate green. So many universities around the country have one, and so should we.”

Instructional Technology Coordinator James Bona ’75 followed after Sobelman with some comments on the day’s events.

“It is a fact that there are 6.5 billion people on earth, a number that is increasing logarithmically over time,” Bona said. “Each person is putting out a carbon footprint. The things we do matter. Tell the caterers not to bother supplying bottled water at special events, because you’re not going to drink it. Tell the administration not to bother buying incandescent lamps, because you’re not going to turn them on. As students, you have power. If you get together and exercise that power, you can enact change.”