As the looming threat of climate change continues to endanger communities across the globe, institutions like Gonzaga University have stepped up to the challenge by becoming leaders in environmental research and social justice. This Earth Day, GU launched The Gonzaga Climate Center for Climate, Society and the Environment.
The inaugural event, occurring today, Thursday, at 3:30 p.m. will be led by GU’s Brian G. Henning who will serve as the founding director of the Climate Center. As the founding director, Henning will deliver the inaugural lecture that will be available to all GU students and beyond.
“As an academic initiative, the Climate Center focuses on education to foster greater understanding and to help form people prepared to face the challenge of a changing climate,” Henning said. “The Climate Center fosters innovative education courses, educational experiences and research opportunities for GU students, so they are prepared as leaders for a just and integral world.”
Today’s lecture has drawn the attention of leaders from across the nation and will feature appearances from Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, founder of the climate action group 350.org Bill McKibben, and the executive director of the US Climate Action Network Keya Chatterjee.
Other key speakers at the event will include GU Provost and Senior Vice President Deena González.
Despite being situated on GU’s campus and led by GU faculty, the Climate Center aims to be heavily involved in the regional community. Henning hopes that by building relationships with Inland Northwest business leaders and policy-makers, the Climate Center will initiate vital climate research and funding that will help communities understand, mitigate and adapt to climate change.
“The Center is distinguished by its singular focus on climate change, and its interdisciplinary approach to tackling the challenges,” Henning said. “The Gonzaga Climate Center is the first academic center at a Jesuit institution to focus on the challenge of climate change and how it relates to society and the environment.”
The idea first came to life in 2013 when a group of faculty first brought it to university administration. In the last two years this interdisciplinary group from across the university brought the idea of this new leadership initiative to reality.
“The Climate Center proposal received strong support from nearly every academic dean, Provost González, and President [Thayne] McCulloh,” Henning said. “It is gratifying to see this come into existence even amidst the challenges created by the pandemic.”
As an extension of GU’s mission statement to “care for the planet," the Climate Center outlines its goals as being, “informed by an abiding commitment to a just society and care for the planet.”
Today's event is not only highly anticipated by GU’s faculty and associates, but students as well are preparing for the major turning point in environmental studies at the university.
Soleil Rain is a senior and served on the Gonzaga Student Body Association as sustainability chair her sophomore year. As an avid environmentalist, she sees this center as a vital step in GU’s vision to uphold its mission statement and commitment to the environment.
"GU has struggled for a long time with involving critical environmental work into our inner working of the school," Rain said. "But with this new center, hopefully actual progress can be made to follow our mission of commitment to a just society and care for the planet.
Rain will graduate this May as the new center arrives but as the university plans to resume all in-person facilities this fall, current and future students will be able to be involved in this critical addition to GU's mission effort.
“I remember hearing the news we were going to have a center for climate, society and the environment and I got really excited,” Rain said. “This is a great step to care for the planet in a time when we really need it the most.”
The inaugural lecture will be livestreamed online and is available to all Thursday afternoon. According to the university there is no attendance limit and all who wish to attend the livestreamed event are encouraged to do so.
For more information on how to watch the livestream and to register for the lecture, visit gonzaga.edu/center-for-climate-society-environment.