Speakers urge students to make environmentally friendly decisions
Climate change causes air temperature to rise 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit annually; glaciers are rapidly disappearing; bird species are predicted to go extinct.
Exigent problems of climate change were discussed on Wednesday at the Common Day of Learning’s (CDL) five-part symposium titled “Our Footprint in Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability.”
Sustainability and climate change regularly show up in daily, on-campus discussions. Implementing California’s state-wide ban of plastic straws as of Jan. 1, promoting green transportation by bringing VeoRide bikes to campus and building a new community garden on East Campus are all minor adjustments that APU has made to become more eco-friendly.
Although these changes promote sustainability, lecture speakers at the symposium questioned if APU is doing enough to educate students on making environmentally beneficial decisions.
As an employee at APU for more than 30 years, Richard Slimbach, a professor in the department of global studies, said he noticed environmental needs were a relatively low priority at APU. The university did not listen to suggestions of how to implement methods that would promote sustainability until they were addressed in terms of cost efficiency.
“When we began to speak of environmental issues, which was about 10 years ago, it was in light of cost saving,” Slimbach said. “Let’s change out the lightbulbs; let’s reduce the electrical bill; let’s put low-flow showerheads into all the dorm rooms to reduce our water bill.”
In his lecture, “What Does A Sustainable Society Look Like?” Slimbach spoke about the imperative need to for people to change their lifestyle in order to create a more sustainable living environment.
Louise Huang, the director of APU’s Center for Research in Science (CRIS), questioned if society is doing enough to address the issue of climate change at her symposium on the “Results from the Recent Carbon Cycle and National Climate Assessment.” She warned those in attendance that the choices made in the present will determine the magnitude of the consequences of climate change in the next few years. Huang said college campuses can play an impactful role in environmental sustainability.
In her lecture on “Microorganisms and Plastics with Regard to Climate Change,” Sarah Richart, a professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, asked the audience to look at how many different things are made of plastic. She pointed to plastic wrappers, pens and water bottles to show that nobody is guilt-free when it comes to plastic waste.
“On our own college campus, plastic is used often in furniture and dining services,” Richart said.
Richart listed methods APU can employ to reduce plastic waste on campus, which include using reusable silverware and plates and conducting a waste audit for leadership to discern where the majority of plastic waste is coming from.
However, according to Slimbach, it wasn’t always this way. He explained that starting with the Industrial Revolution, society’s perception of the world and its resources shifted. Capitalism in the U.S. has led to the commodification of natural resources.
“Environmental sustainability is not easy within our current social narrative. There is no way to sugarcoat that. We are consuming what we don’t need to keep capitalism going,” Slimbach said.
His presentation focused on the challenges that often lie in people’s ability or willingness to act. The efforts required to create sustainable and noticeable climate change are astronomical, and Slimbach explained that people do not want to act upon altering an environment that has perpetuated comfort and complacency.
“We can have an intellectual love of God. We should have a spiritual love of God through worship, spiritual disciplines,” Slimbach said. “But the relationship to the earth, because it is in the non-human domain, was considered irrelevant to Christian faithfulness. That, to me, is a theological obstacle.”
However, Richart expressed hope with the passage of bills such as bans on the use of plastic microbeads, single-use plastic bags and single-use plastic straws unless the customer asks for them. According to ProPublica, there are 33 bills waiting to pass on environmental protection this year.
“Students have the idea that there are so many other concerns in the world that they want to focus on that climate change cannot factor into, but climate change is holistic,” Huang said.
As Slimbach explained, it doesn’t help that places such as college campuses, which hold the power to initiate change, face challenges with funding, technical solutions and stakeholder agreements. He said that until people change positively, this planet cannot heal.
“When we don’t treat God’s creation with adoration and awe, we are not being good stewards,” Huang said.