Climate Conversation: 1/30/2015

These conversations are designed to permit the NKU community to discuss climate change in a respectful way, and to "prime the pump". We hope that conversations about climate change will continue beyond these "Climate Conversations".

Ground Rules:

Participants agree to abide by the following rules (to be invoked by the moderator, as necessary):

  1. Silence cell phones.
  2. One mic (figuratively speaking — I may use a ball!)
    • only one person speaks at a time
    • no side conversations.
  3. Share the mic (if you've been talking a lot, back off; if you've said nothing, but would like to, ask for the mic).
  4. Ask questions by raising your hand, not by interrupting: the speaker may choose to address questions, or ignore them — it's speaker's choice. But back-and-forth will be only between speaker and questioner — others who wish to join the conversation must raise their hands.
  5. Silent "louder signal" (an "L" when you can't hear). In a large group, the moderator will repeat a question from the audience.
  6. "Three minutes" — one person has the floor for three minutes (or less); then the mic passes to the next person in line.
  7. "Moderator as ref" — the moderator is "the referee", who applies these rules. Anyone who refuses to abide by the rules will be asked to leave: you can get a red card!
  8. Take care of yourself (feel free to get up to go to the bathroom, to get a drink of water, to cool off).

Starters (in case we need them)

The conversation

About 20 people gathered for the first climate conversation — a mix of students, staff, and faculty. A very civil discussion ensued.

The conversation began with a bit of science, from one of NKU's greatest scientists: Miriam Kannan: she emphasized that we mustn't think entirely in terms of global warming, but rather climate change. She added that methane leaking from the warming permafrost will accelerate the warming — so warming causes a changing climate in the arctic, which leads to a change in the arctic (methane leakage) which changes climate world-wide. Another observation, by Rhonda, was that we shouldn't let people push the "there's always been climate change — it's natural cycles" argument. Sure there's natural variation, but humans are making things worse.

Several others chimed in and wondered why we're not acting in the face of a serious threat.

Some students recognized that, had it not been for their English class (taught by Rhonda Davis), they wouldn't have been there. And that the class has opened their eyes to the issues, and even excited some of them. The students were very complimentary about the course, and the subject matter. English taught via this fight against climate change was much better than a dry, dull "here's where you put the comma". The course seemed to be having a positive effect; one student sounded very excited about how it's changed her life — made her aware of these very important issues.

There were comments about placing responsibility for climate change elsewhere, rather than squarely on us: why ask China to change, when we're caused most of the havoc? What's the chance that Americans want to give up their toys to fight climate change? Later a student from Saudi Arabia said that he'd come to see what Americans are thinking about climate change — so the international angle was represented — but we could pursue that more another time.

There was a significant discussion about the role of education (in the interest of making our world more sustainable, and to increase awareness of the issue of climate change). Talk of

  • ECOS (Ecologically Concerned Organization of Students) on campus, relatively quiet at the moment.
  • Finding ways to make our campus more sustainable, and better climate stewards.
  • What resources educators would need to stay current, and fact-based?
  • One said that educators need to talk to students at their level — keep the vocabulary off all the science (but give some sense of the impacts).
  • Observations were made about the encouraging improvements in the public's concern about climate change.
  • How best to promote activism on campus. One astute student informed us that we've got to put events out under students' noses — "it's not like we'll go searching for things to do — we've got enough; but if we happen upon something…."
  • How do we keep organizations going (e.g. ECOS)? People with energy get them going, and then leave — and the energy dies. How can we sustain these organizations concerned with sustainability? Get people to commit to helping even after they leave campus? Miriam made sure that we recognized the power of ECOS, and other student led groups. Without ECOS NKU probably wouldn't have the nice recycling emphasis which it now has.
  • Madhura emphasized the role that the battle against climate change would play in many fields, including economics, engineering, math-fields, etc. It's important "transdisciplinarily".

One student indicated that it was difficult to find time in one's busy life to think about climate change. Others said it's not on the radar.

One thing that popped up was some of the standard vocabulary of climate change: so there were nods to

  • sustainability,
  • the anthropocene, and a
  • post-carbon world (in particular, Rhonda's English class is reading from The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises).

There was talk of "ecophobia", and the gloom and doom which is frequent at discussions of climate change. But solutions, too, figured into the discussion. There was talk of

  • hybrid cars,
  • carbon sequestration (by forests, say), and — gasp! —
  • voting.

In a final bit of discussion we talked of Keystone, which one of the students brought up. The Senate just voted today to authorize its construction (with an expected Presidential veto). What did we think would be the consequences? Folks seemed to think that the oil will get out anyway, but perhaps by more dangerous means (e.g. trucks, trains). Bill observed that some of those trains — "ticking time bombs, he called them — travel right through Cincinnati; he added further that one of the major impediments is economics, at the moment — the low price of oil makes focus on those dirty oils, difficult to ship, less likely.

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