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Our Future is in Our Hands: Changing Climate Change

Hey Hiram! What’s up with climate change?  Students from this spring’s Climate Change seminar took this question to the Hiram College community in the form of short survey. We asked students, staff, and faculty eight questions designed to get a sense of respondents’ awareness of climate change, knowledge of climate science, willingness to take action, and awareness of Hiram’s commitment to reducing our climate impact--and we heard from 149 of them.  It turns out that the Hiram College community is on par with the average U.S. population in acknowledging climate change and understanding that it has something to do with human activity (see Figure 1).

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The recently published International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report based on extensive review of available scientific evidence indicates that scientists are 95% certain that current global climate change is being driven primarily by human activity.  Recognizing the role of human activity in causing climate change is the first step towards admitting responsibility taking real action.

Interestingly, Juniors and Seniors are more likely to acknowledge that climate change is real than Freshmen and Sophomores (see Figure 2). Our interpretation: Education matters!

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With such a large proportion of our college population, and our national population, aware of climate change and the role human activity plays in it, we were surprised to find that respondents to our survey were not terribly concerned about climate change.  When asked “On a scale of 0-7, how important is climate change to you?” respondents who accept climate change as happening and attribute it, at least in part, to human activity had a median score of 5.3. We interpret this to mean that 50% of these community members have a weak to moderate sense of concern about climate change while the other 50% have a moderate to strong sense of concern. Again, Hiram is in line with the rest of the nation. According to a Gallup Poll published last month, 51% of national poll respondents said they worried about climate change “a little/not at all” and only 24% worried about this issue “a great deal."

And now for some bad news. We wanted to know how aware our campus community is about the things Hiram is doing to reduce our climate impact.  We kept it simple, asking people to rate Hiram College’s efforts to reduce its climate impact and whether or not they were aware of Hiram’s participation in the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Among respondents who think climate change is real and due to human activities, the median rank of Hiram’s efforts was 3.7.  In other words, most people in our community don’t think Hiram College is doing very much to reduce our climate impact. In fact, two-thirds of all respondents were not aware that Hiram is a signatory to the ACUPCC (see Figure 3)!  Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.

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President Chema signed the Climate Commitment in 2009, committing Hiram College to reducing net carbon emissions to ZERO over the coming years. You’ve certainly seen the two solar arrays on campus and may have noticed new lights in the Coleman Center. These are just two of the more visible elements of Hiram’s many efforts to move towards carbon neutrality. Stay tuned for more climate initiatives underway!

During our last class meeting on Friday, we talked about what we wanted the rest of our community to know about climate change.  In a nutshell, this is it:

  1. Climate change is happening.
  2. Humans are causing climate change.
  3. The consequences of climate change will be serious if we don’t do something about it NOW.

 Here are some things we’d like to see more of across campus:

  • Power down or unplug when you’re not using your devices!
  • Better yet, put your devices away now and again and try some old fashioned “social media,” you know, like face to face with your friends, and don’t forget about the library’s technology we call books.
  • Walk, don’t drive across campus.  We all need the exercise.
  • Carpool when you need to drive.  It’s more fun to go with friends.
  • Report leaky faucets, toilets, showers and heating problems to Physical Plant.
  • Reduce the waste you produce. Recycle, sure. But also ask for compostable/recyclable/reusable options in the bookstore, Bistro, and Dining Hall. The more people ask, the more these options will become available.
  • Stay informed and vote for climate-responsible politicians.
  • Share what you know with others.
  • Most importantly: demand, help create, and support campus-wide policies that will help meaningfully address the sources of climate change.    

 ONLY YOU CAN CHANGE CLIMATE CHANGE!

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Sarah Mabey is Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Environmental Studies Program.  Professor Mabey teaches courses related to her training in conservation biology and her diverse interests in environmental studies (Conservation Biology, Humans and the Environment, Ornithology/Field Ornithology, Wildlife Management, and Wildlife Rehabilitation as well as topical seminars on climate change and campus sustainability).

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