Living With Climate Change series sparks discussion on sustainability solutions

  • February 7, 2024
  • Katherine Camarata

Climate Action Plan presented to CWU community for input

With temperatures rising and the need for carbon reduction at an all-time high, combating the effects of climate change as an average citizen can feel daunting, or even impossible.

Living With Climate Change, a series of events hosted by the CWU Department of Philosophy and Comparative Religion and EthicsLab, aims to unite the CWU and local communities through discussion about the challenges posed by these environmental shifts.

The first event in the series, “Climate Change and You: A Town Hall Discussion of Eco-Anxiety,” was held January 26 in the Museum of Culture and Environment. Despite the weight of this topic, the event featured a therapeutic, community-building focus that served to empower attendees.

Dr. Lauren Nuckols and Dr. Matthew Altman from the Philosophy department outlined the severity of climate change in their introduction. Altman explained the “perfect moral storm” of climate change, a phrase coined by Stephen Gardiner, and how this multifaceted problem is so challenging to conceptualize that it seems impossible for the average person to make an impact.

Altman says this leads to people feeling debilitated and frozen, moving through life as though nothing is wrong, when the world seems to be increasingly headed toward emergency.

climate-change-central-today-graphic_winter-quarter.jpgThe two facilitators asked audience members about their emotions surrounding the impacts of climate change, before opening the floor for comments and questions. Attendees were urged not to hold back in sharing what was on their minds, leading to a discussion about fear for the world’s children may inherit, as well as practical solutions, such as vegetarianism and corporate accountability.

Event-goers shared their own personal struggles with the group, such as obsessively reading news cycles, experiencing feelings of powerlessness, and guilt for contributing to climate change. Feelings of dread and confusion also surfaced during the forum.

Dr. David Schwan, a philosophy professor and director of the EthicsLab, said he appreciated the therapeutic aspect of the event because sharing his experiences helped lessen some of the burden. Schwan is helping to organize the event series, and he offered extra credit to his Ethical Theory students who attended the town hall.

“Even though the first third of the event was people sharing a lot of negative emotions, it actually felt therapeutic, and I felt affirmed in a number of things that I feel about this,” he said. “There were some great strategies. It’s fun to hear how other folks are processing things in the community. I felt motivated.”

Some attendees expressed concerns about raising children in a world that will continue to suffer the effects of climate change. One such attendee was CWU Sustainability Officer Jeff Bousson, who expressed fear over explaining climate change to his son in the future. At the same time, he found the event provided a positive outlet.

“What I found so wonderful about this event is that there were new faces,” Bousson said. “It wasn't the same people that you usually see over and over again at events. Reaching new audiences is great to see. Having conversations like that makes me feel like I'm not alone.”

Jampa Dorje, a long-term Ellensburg resident who has audited many philosophy courses, said he appreciated the accessible dialogue that was created and how it bridged the town-gown divide between Ellensburg and CWU: “Rather than having lectures, it’s better to allow the audience to work it out, like a seminar in class. The only way we will find out if these things are solvable is to come together in a town forum.”

Altman added that the Philosophy department can contribute to the CWU community and beyond by hosting conversations about these “big” questions.

“This is not solely the domain of environmental scientists or climatologists,” Altman said. “One of the goals of the EthicsLab is to break down some of the barriers between the university and the larger community, and I think it was successful. We had a lot of not only students, but also community members, and it gave us an opportunity to let them talk to each other about these issues.”


Looking Toward the Future: Climate Action Plan

Bousson says he is eager to implement the Climate Action Plan at CWU, which proposes a pathway to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. The plan also outlines CWU’s effort to develop sustainability initiatives with a goal of becoming a zero-carbon campus in the next 15-20 years, as further detailed in a story in the fall 2023 edition of Crimson & Black magazine.

Bousson presented the Climate Action Plan on January 31 at a sustainability forum for the second event of the Living with Climate Change series.

“With the Climate Action Plan being finalized in the next six or so weeks, I'm working with University Relations to design the plan,” Bousson said. “This plan can't afford to be just collecting dust on the shelf, so, at our sustainability forum, we're going to be reviewing high-level objectives and strategies for 11 different sections, ranging from energy efficiency to renewable electricity to waste to education to equity. I'm going to showcase what we have put together and seek as much input and feedback as possible before it's finalized.”

Bousson emphasized that the Climate Action Plan is a “living, breathing document” that will continue evolving. He says next year around this time, he will update the community on what has been achieved in relation to the Climate Action Plan, which supports the third core value of CWU’s Mission and Vision: stewardship.

“What I'm also very excited about is working with a consulting firm, working with Capital Planning and Projects to put together a 15-year Decarbonization Plan that is going to support and align with our Climate Action Plan,” Bousson said.

The second event in the Living With Climate Change series was held Tuesday, February 6. The Good Life discussion series, presented by the EthicsLab, was hosted in the Hal Holmes Community Center. The next event, scheduled for February 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the Museum of Culture and Environment lobby, will be a roundtable discussion titled "Local Climate Effects and Adaptation." 

Schwan encourages students and community members to attend the upcoming events in the series to meet other people who are involved in efforts to combat the existential crisis of climate change.

“It's interesting, and it's also very practical,” Schwan said. “There are some talks that you can go to, or some places you can go to, where you can learn something very abstract. This issue touches on a variety of parts of our normal lives, but it's going to have a variety of quite pressing political and social implications.”

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Katherine Camarata

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