Universities have key role in educating about climate


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Climate change is proving to be one of the most intractable yet dire challenges facing this generation. While overwhelming scientific evidence supports the existence of the phenomenon and the need to take action, doing so has been difficult.

Many people in the United States are unconvinced of the existence of climate change, and those who are working still struggle to devise and implement solutions.

Universities and colleges have a special obligation to take initiative on this issue. Such institutions are centers of learning and research, which gives them a vital role in applying the fruits of such labor to pressing real world problems.

There is no doubt that universities have been at least attempting to make inroads. In 2009, hundreds of universities signed the American College and University’s Climate Commitment, with Appalachian State University being among them.

Appalachian State University has developed a well deserved reputation for working in the environmental arena. The university has a history of academic interest in sustainability, with an appropriate technology program active since 1984 and sustainability programs in place since 1991.

Over the past several years, the university has undertaken a number of initiatives to create a more sustainable university and combat the problem of climate change.

Just this year we came out with the zero waste policy at the football stadium that works to ensure that all items sold in the stadium are recyclable. The carbon commuter program allows students to donate money to purchase carbon offsets to make up for their commute.
Sustainability Office Communications Manager Donna Presnell said that 17 percent of who purchased parking passes participated in the program.

Even though she has found that some people in the university have problems adjusting to some climate neutrality changes, Presnell believes that overall the culture at Appalachian, and throughout the UNC system, is correct for the challenges we face.

Unfortunately, there is a difference in the world outside of universities. Polling results over the past year indicate that Americans have a number of misunderstandings about the causes, effects and severity of climate change.

A finding in a Gallup poll from March is particularly relevant to higher education. College graduates are only slightly more likely than non-college graduates to attribute climate change to human action, according to the poll.

In a time of such misunderstandings, universities must take the initiative to not only make institutional changes, but also to be aggressive in spreading the message to the general public as much as they possibly can.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.