The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has joined 217 campuses in signing the American Campuses Act on Climate, a pledge to demonstrate support for strong international climate action.
Signed by Chancellor Bernie Patterson on Nov. 11, UWSP’s pledge backs world leaders and policy makers in their pursuit of a low-carbon future, detailing specific actions already in place to meet campus sustainability goals.
The pledges are part of a larger effort by the White House and the State Department to educate the public and encourage a global resolution at COP 21, the United Nations climate talks in Paris during December. Similar pledges were made by large businesses and municipalities to support the government and the greater climate action movement.
The White House released an official list of pledges on Nov. 19 during a ‘Day of Climate Action’ where students, university presidents and non-government officials met at the White House for a round-table discussion on climate change.
Dave Barbier, sustainability coordinator for UWSP, was invited to sit-in on the discussion and joined a group of select university representatives in Washington. UWSP was the only UW-System school to sign a pledge and was joined by only one other Wisconsin institution, Western Technical College of La Crosse.
The statistic is both fantastic and tragic, Barbier said. Because UWSP’s administrators seized the opportunity to pledge, the university stands out on a national level.
“I was pretty sad and pretty disappointed to see that we were the only UW institution on the list,” he said. “I would think any time you have the opportunity to support the White House in terms of climate change, you’d do that.”
Although he was honored to be invited to view the discussion, the gathering lacked the content and involvement Barbier was hoping for. Some of the smartest campus leaders in the country were in one room but discussion was not focused on tackling issues and ended up being more of a public relations event, he said.
Despite his disappointment, Barbier considers the round-table a success and said he was happy to represent UWSP and network with other universities and the state department, making future collaborations a possibility.
The discussion was originally planned to be live-streamed via Facebook, but officials instead broadcasted an interview with Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Around 70 students, faculty and staff watched the interview at a viewing event held in the Laird Room at UWSP. Chancellor Bernie Patterson addressed the audience before the live-stream began and spoke briefly about the pledge.
“The turnout today is great,” Patterson said. “Whatever we can do to make ourselves more sustainable in terms of climate issues, the better.”
McCarthy spoke generally about the impacts of climate change and the importance of taking action. The effects are already being felt, she said, and action must be urgent.
After watching the interview, the audience was engaged in open discussion lead by junior Natalie Lirette, student data analyst for The Office of Sustainability.
Students brought up a number of climate related topics like how to convince non-believers that climate change is occurring and how social norms may slow progressive action.
“I don’t think people realize how much power universities have,” said one student when commenting on the power of institutions to make positive change.
“I think all of us have a huge foot in the door by being at this school,” said another student who spoke about environmental literacy.
Lirette said the main goal of the event was to educate students about COP 21 and empower them to take action. She was happy to see enthusiasm among attendees and stressed the importance of students understanding climate issues, especially because of UWSP’s ‘green’ reputation.
“I think it’s our duty,” Lirette said. “We need to be aware and we need to take action. By doing so, we’re on our way to leadership.”