Climate Activism

Students can participate in activities run by the GU office of Sustainability that educate and provide leadership opportunities. 

Union Square’s iconic Metronome digital clock in New York City transformed into a doomsday clock on Sept. 19, putting the planet’s countdown on display for the whole world to see.

“Earth has a deadline,” the clock flashes every couple of minutes.

With the increasing threat of climate change becoming a reality, more and more individuals are turning to environmental justice and sustainability to fight climate change.

At Gonzaga, students have the opportunity to participate in programs run by the Office of Sustainability in order to educate themselves on environmental issues and become leaders in the fight against climate change.

The office is holding its annual Student Sustainability Leadership Program (SSLP) later this school year.

The SSLP is designed to equip students with leadership skills and knowledge about climate change to be carried over into other parts of campus and their daily lives. They cover a wide range of topics, ranging from sustainable infrastructure to energy and waste. It meets weekly.

In addition to learning about climate issues, students are asked to create individual projects to help combat climate change. Past projects include Fossil Free Gonzaga and Mend-It Mondays. These are designed to encourage innovation within sustainability efforts.

The program is also open to Spokane community members and employees of the university. They’re not required to create individual projects, and they meet biweekly. They still cover the same topics, and upon completing the program, they become environmental ambassadors and receive a certificate.

“In the past it’s been incredibly successful," said Madison Dougherty, sustainability leadership program coordinator. "We’ve opened a lot of doors for students, employees and community members in being more involved with sustainability, not just on campus, but in the community as a whole."

The program takes about 25 applicants, and applications are currently open on Zagtivities. The deadline for applications is Nov. 20.

Zags can also participate in other activities to help combat the ongoing climate crisis.

“Students at Gonzaga can join Gonzaga Environmental Organization's (GEO) Fossil Free Gonzaga campaign to get GU’s Board of Trustees to divest our endowment of the largest fossil fuel companies driving climate change," said  Brian Henning, professor of philosophy and environmental studies. "Further, students can get involved with the local climate action movement by joining 350 Spokane and Sunrise Movement Spokane. To address the climate crisis, systemic change is needed, which requires not only individual behavioral change, but also collective action."

Climate change has manifested recently in the Spokane region with the smoke from the intense wildfires in California during early September. Often, these intense wildfires within the American West are a product of man-made activity. During the recent fires, Spokane’s air quality broke 400 on the air quality scale, a level that is extremely hazardous. The intensity of these fires is a result of having more dry vegetation and fuel during the summers.

According to the Spokane Climate Project, “In recent decades, the frequency and size of wildfires in the Western US has increased due in large part to climate changes that are making conditions ideal for wildfires. Put simply, climate change is drying out forest vegetation, leading to high levels of fuel aridity. This drying process is turning vegetation into fuels, which only need the right ignition source—be it a lightning strike or a stray lit cigarette—to go up in flames.”

With the global temperature on its way to increasing by 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, wildfires aren’t the only things affected by the climate crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2018 that if temperatures on the planet increase enough, we could witness an iceless arctic summer at least once per decade, the destruction of coral reefs across the seas and an increased frequency in weather-based natural disasters such as hurricanes.

There will be a doubling of populations exposed to droughts. Famines will also occur much more often.

Furthermore, the sea levels will rise, flooding major cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Miami, displacing millions of people.

“According to the thousands of scientists who work through the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is extremely likely (>95%) that human activity has been the dominant cause of observed warming since 1950,” Henning said. 

Climate activism seeks to combat this through sustainability, and a main concern is the effects on the planet and vulnerable communities.

“These carbon emissions that are released by the rich and the wealthy, those effects fall on the poor and the vulnerable, and those people — the poor and the vulnerable — those are the people who are doing nothing," Dougherty said. "They’re not releasing that many carbon emissions. They’re not affecting the global carbon footprint, and yet they are having to carry the burden the most. That is very wrong. It’s disgusting to think about, and we need to talk about that more.”

Zags have several avenues available to engage in environmental justice. The Office of Sustainability serves as the main hub to assist students in finding their niche in activism.

“The first step in combating climate change and being truly sustainable is not something you can do by actions," Dougherty said. "It’s something you have to do within yourself."

Alexander Prevost is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @alexanderprvst.

Alexander Prevost is a staff writer for the Gonzaga Bulletin. He is passionate about writing, politics, and music.

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