Living the message: Universities should combat global warming

April 24 2008

TERRE HAUTE ��" Universities have an obligation to not only teach about climate change science, but also to work to mitigate their own affect on the environment, according to a climatologist who spoke at Indiana State University’s Earth Day program Tuesday (April 22).

“People look up to universities,” said Brent Yarnal, professor of geography and director of the Center for Integrated Regional Assessment at Pennsylvania State University. “We have to put our money where our mouths are.”

Yarnal spoke on “The Role of Universities in Climate Change Mitigation,” during the Earth Day event that was funded by the Lilly Endowment and the College of Arts and Sciences. His research integrates climate change, natural hazards and land-use change and the use of environmental information in decision making. His current research focuses on greenhouse gas emissions inventories and planning their mitigation.

“Celebrating Earth Day helps remind us that we are stewards of the planet and we should do as much as possible to minimize our footprint,” said Rusty Gonser, assistant professor.

During his speech, Yarnal discussed evaluating Penn State’s campus and that university’s efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. Students conducted an emissions inventory studying what gases were emitted and how they were emitted.

“You have to look at the activities that people engage in. People drive cars and turn on lights, which emit gases,” he said. “Once we know what the activities are, we can modify those activities.”

After looking at one year’s inventory, the university engaged the students to conduct an inventory for the 1990s. What they found is that the university’s emissions increased 21.4 percent from its base in 1990. If the United States was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the university would have to decrease its emissions by 7 percent from 1990’s levels.

Yarnal said 80 percent to 90 percent of the university’s increase is energy costs. They have begun to decrease the emissions by buying 20 percent of the university’s needs from alternative energy sources.

What universities can do in addition to teaching about climate change is to provide research opportunities for students, as well as provide service learning opportunities. He also said universities must find ways to decrease their emissions.

As for students, Yarnal said they can learn about climate change, engage in research and learning, as well as engage in community action. Most of all, they should reduce their own carbon footprints.

“If we don’t start here, it’s never going to get better,” he said.

Nate Rathbun, a graduate student in life sciences from Ithaca, NY, said it was good to hear about what a university can do.

“Most talks are about the problem, not potential solutions,” he said.

Rathbun said he already recycles, turns off lights and walks to work when it’s not too cold outside.

“This will change what I speak out about,” he said. “I want to be an advocate for it so there can be a local change rather than just one person changing.”

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Contact: Rusty Gonser, Indiana State University, assistant professor, at 812- 237-2395 or rgonser@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or jsicking@isugw.indstate.edu

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/284483983_ZGN9e-D.jpg

Cutline: Brent Yarnal, professor of geography and director of the Center for Integrated Regional Assessment at Pennsylvania State University, speaks about a university’s role in mitigating climate change during Earth Day at Indiana State University. ISU Photo/Justin Schwab Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/282116410_Y8buB-D.jpg Cutline: Adam Clawson,a sophomore social science major from Paris, Ill.; Marah Haley, senior social science major from Terre Haute; and Brittany Walker, a freshman social science major from Austin work on a tree survey, which was conducted as part of ISU Earth Day activities on April 19.

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Story Highlights

Universities have an obligation to not only teach about climate change science, but also to work to mitigate their own affect on the environment, according to a climatologist who spoke at Indiana State University's Earth Day program Tuesday (April 22).

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