By Jack Gallagher
Being part of The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program was the best thing that I could have possibly done for myself in high school. It opened so many opportunities for great educational experiences. Being able to travel to different parts of the country and now the world with the Youth Climate Program has allowed me to meet people from all over trying to make a positive change in their communities. Also, during all these trips we have had a great group of people who became very close working together on these projects.
One of the biggest challenges I have endured working with this program has been staying focused when we were preparing presentations. However, without doing those presentations with the AYCP, I would not have the public speaking skills that I do now. It’s a result of all the practice doing the presentations, and it actually opened up a job opportunity for me. Anyone new to the program or thinking about joining it should take as many of these opportunities are possible and put in a serious effort. A lot of people are willing to listen to what you have to say and want to see what you can do.
The trip itself was really eye opening. I had a lot of culture shock and never fully adjusted. It was hotter and more humid than any place I’ve been before. However, I was able to see places I never imagined I would go to, and liked how we were able to see so many different places in such a short amount of time. The religious temples we went to were amazing, and we drove by some that were just as impressive. Everywhere we went, we had delicious food, including the fresh fruit on stands just off the side of the roads. I was overjoyed when I had the opportunity to see elephants being able to roam freely on their own terms. Whenever we stopped and talked to anyone they would ask us lots of questions, like: “Do you like Sri Lanka? How’s the food? What is it like where you are from? Still getting used to the heat?”
The actual summit was great- The students were enthusiastic and ready to find solutions in their schools. Presenting to a group from halfway across the world was challenging, as I had to speak slow to make sure everyone was able to understand the material. It took some practice and concentration, since I normally get excited and talk fast when I present. Presenting to people where English was their second language was challenging, but I think most of the students could understand what I was saying. The workshops were mostly panel discussions, and not quite as hands-on as other summits I have been to. My favorite one was the climate justice workshop, which was a really intense discussion on how climate change is going to affect the world’s poorest people. It also discussed how Sri Lanka can play a role in a force for good, even though it’s such a small country. My favorite part of the summit was being able to talk to the students during our tabling session, and I was impressed with how prepared they were. They had everything they needed and then some, and we even gained some ideas to use at future summits. Most of the climate action plans I saw were achievable projects that students were ready to work on. My favorite one was a proposal to build an outdoor study area out of bricks made from recycled material.
The thing I will remember the most from this trip other than the heat and incredible food will definitely be the opportunity I had to talk to these students, and their views on how to fix the word. This program has given me all sorts of knowledge that I will have for life- Not just all the scientific facts, but also the people skills. I really hope this program will be able to continue the positive work they are doing for a long time.
by Danielle Simmons
A new course being offered this semester at Paul Smith’s College is Environmental Communication (ENV 399). This course is taught as a collaboration between our college and The Wild Center in Tupper Lake Rob Carr and Curt Stager. This course is the result of a PSC Center for Campus Sustainability fund proposal that was passed last fall. Sixteen students are currently enrolled and throughout the course they will be gaining knowledge about interpretation as well as local environmental issues and applying their knowledge and research by presenting to “gatekeeper” leader within the community as well as the general public at SAMFest on April 22, 2017. This course allows students the option to earn a National Association of Interpretation Guide Training certificate through The Wild Center. In the past when this course was offered, almost all of the students took the opportunity to receive that certification.
So far, we have learned the basics on interpretation, new presenting techniques and examples of how to find information that will help us make a strong presentation. All of this is leading up to the first homework assignment, which is an individual five minute presentation on something resulting in change in the students hometowns. All that we have learned so far will be applied in this assignment. This is the first time we will be making our own presentations and we will be able to get feedback that will help us further on in the course.
I feel like I’m actually going to make a difference with this course and develop skills I’m going to be able to utilize throughout my career.
Check out the link below for more info on SAMFEST (Science Art and Music Festival)
By Kathryn Vellone
In helping to fulfill our institution’s mission toward greater sustainability in higher education, Paul Smith’s College Center for Campus Sustainability staff will begin using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) during this spring semester. STARS is a program provided by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and allows for partnering colleges and universities to measure their overall sustainability performance under a uniform method. With STARS, however, sustainability tracking goes way beyond measuring a lower carbon footprint and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It also encompasses sustainability in an institution’s curriculum, community engagement and diversity, and planning, allowing for continuous improvement in all areas of higher education.
So what are some other perks of the STARS program, especially for our college? First, with some data gathering and reporting, colleges can earn recognition points under the general areas of: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration. Upon accumulation of these points, they can earn a STARS Reporter recognition, or even a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating. Second and perhaps more importantly than a high achievement award, the STARS program is TRANSPARENT, meaning that all of our students and staff can view our performance at any time through the program website, and be included in a global community committed to sustainability advancement.
For more information on the STARS reporting system and how it can benefit Paul Smith’s College, visit www.stars.aashe.org, or feel free to contact the Center for Campus Sustainability. Share your thoughts and ideas on how we can become a STAR in the sustainability world!
by Jack Gallagher
I will be going to the country of Sri Lanka January 13th through the 25th with the Wild Center, to present at Sri Lanka’s first ever Youth Climate Summit. I am very excited to have been picked out of a handful of students that have worked with the Wild Center Youth Climate Program. I will be traveling with two Wild Center staff members and a close friend that has also been very involved in the Youth Climate Summit program. As a group, we will be presenting in a large plenary session as well as directing a couple small workshops to help teach the students there about the science behind climate change and come carbon reduction strategies The Youth Summit will give students resources to design a carbon neutrality plan to bring back to their schools. With their plan they can begin to take steps towards carbon neutrality in their own schools and communities. I am very excited to be able to be a part of this!
I will not just be there for the summit. We also plan on seeing many of the incredible attractions the island nation has to offer like its many Buddhist and Hindu religious temples, beautiful beaches, and an elephant orphanage. I have never seen an elephant outside of a circus, so i’m pretty pumped for that last one! I have been told that we will be able to check out the nation’s capital Colombo, and learn about the country’s diverse culture and history. I also can’t wait to try the unique food.
I already have my plane tickets booked and an approved travel visa. Since there are no direct flights to Sri Lanka I will be flying out of Lake Clear to Boston. From Boston I will go to Dubai and then Colombo. It’s over thirty hours of travel both ways. It will be worth it. However before I go I have a list of things to do before I get on the plane. It will be my first time immersed in a completely different culture so I will be reading up on how not to offend anyone by being an ignorant tourist. Sri Lanka just finished a civil war in 2009 and it’s a sensitive subject. The country is very diverse with several languages and religions because of this there are certain guidelines we need to be aware of. I would like to represent the college well. A couple things I know so far is that I’m not to touch anything of value with just my left hand or take a picture with my back to any government buildings, religious temples or sacred sights. In preparation I will also have to get several immunisations, many of which I have started on.
I have never been in a tropical climate for more than three days at a time so two weeks could potentially be quite a shock to my system. Luckily most of the island speaks English so if there are any issues we shouldn’t have to deal with a language barrier. I have also started looking into what issues the island itself is facing because of climate change. Most island nations have their biggest issues with sea level rise submerging them. Sri Lanka is very steep and mountainous. There are only a few places on the island that rising oceans pose a big issue. From what I have read so far the biggest issue they are facing because of climate change is how the monsoon seasons that they depend on for farming and fresh water have been altered. This poses a risk for extreme drought and food shortages. The island is also very close to the equator and has been seeing more intense and increasing frequency of extreme heat waves. I’m sure when I attend the Youth Summit I will learn about even more issues the island is facing and their creative solutions to do their part to combat climate change.
Paul Smiths, N.Y. — It’s a mistake to think the climatic effects of our carbon emissions will be over within a few decades or centuries. Our intergenerational responsibilities run much deeper into the future.
In this new Anthropocene epoch, the “Age of Humans,” we have become so numerous, our technology so powerful, and our lives so interconnected that we are now a force of nature on a geological scale. By running our civilization on fossil fuels, we are both creating and destroying climates that our descendants will live in tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years from now.
Carbon atoms do not disappear when we burn them into carbon dioxide. Isotopic tracer studies show that they work their way into the very fabric of life on Earth. Some of them travel up the food chain from the atmosphere to plants to animals to our dinner plates. Roughly oneeighth of the carbon in your flesh, hair and bones recently emerged from smokestacks and tailpipes. We are not only a source of air pollution — we are air pollution, and our waste fumes will henceforth be woven into the bodies of our descendants, too.
This inert fossil fuel carbon inside us has no direct effect on our health, although mercury and other pollutants that often accompany it amid industrial and automotive emissions may harm us. Most of the airborne carbon will eventually dissolve into the oceans, leaving a sizable fraction of it aloft until it, too, is removed by chemical reactions with carbonate and silicate minerals in rocks and sediments.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the natural mopping up of our mess will be extremely slow. Research by the University of Chicago oceanographer and climate scientist David Archer and others shows that the cleanup will take tens of thousands of years even if we switch quickly to renewable energy sources. When the Earth’s slow cyclic tilting and wobbling along its eccentric orbital path once again leads to a major cooling period some 50,000 years from now, enough of our heattrapping carbon emissions will still remain in the atmosphere to warm the planet just enough to weaken that chill. In other words, our impacts on global climate are so profound that we will have canceled the next ice age.
It is now too late to stop human driven warming altogether. Even if we wean ourselves from fossil fuels within the next few decades, our descendants will still face temperatures significantly higher than they are now — for millenniums to come. But that is no reason to delay or despair. If we don’t make the switch soon, our descendants will later be forced to do so under duress because of the depletion of finite reserves, and the artificially hotter Earth will be even poorer in species, habitats and lifestyles for thousands more generations.
What will it be like to live in a warmer world? Geological history contains numerous examples of previous natural hot spells that offer clues. First, consider the milder scenario.
If we switch quickly from fossil fuels, climates might come to resemble those of the interglacial warm periods that punctuated ice ages of the last two million years. During the last interglacial, which began 130,000 years ago and lasted about 13,000 to 15,000 years, global average temperatures were 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today. Enough of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melted to lift sea levels by about 20 feet, but most polar ice survived. Stronger monsoons turned the Sahara lush and watery, and intense droughts parched the American Southwest.
Many species and ecosystems adapted to the changes that didn’t suit them by simply migrating toward the poles. Polar bears survived, presumably because they found enough icy refuges in the high Arctic to keep them going. The warmth coaxed southern Appalachian oak hickory black gum forests north to upstate New York and sent hippos, elephants and other typically African animals north through Europe.
Unfortunately, our Anthropocene cities, roads, farms and fences now block future migration routes, and as our excess carbon dioxide soaks into the ocean, there will be no place for shell bearing marine creatures to migrate to as the seawater grows increasingly acidic. Furthermore, the heat trapping gases that we release in the most moderate scenario will warm the Earth for much longer than a typical interglacial, on the order of 100,000 years.
This best case scenario is troubling, but Earth history shows us that the alternative is unacceptable. If we burn all remaining coal, oil and gas reserves within the next century or two, we could introduce a more extreme, longer lasting hothouse much like one that occurred about 56 million years ago: the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM.
Unlike the relatively mild interglacials driven by the tilt, wobble and orbit of the Earth, the PETM fundamentally transformed the planet. Experts speculate that it was set off by volcanism in the Atlantic Ocean, thawing of permafrost, melting of methane hydrates, or a combination of such factors. Whatever caused the PETM, it spewed trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air and oceans. Global average temperatures climbed 10 degrees or more, erasing coldloving species and habitats from the planet. With atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations several times higher than today, a combination of warming and carbonic acid buildups in the oceans exterminated many deep sea creatures and dissolved limy minerals and shells from the ocean floor.
The spectacular rise of the PETM lasted several thousand years. The Arctic Ocean became a tepid, brackish cove surrounded by deciduous redwood forests. Antarctica was covered in beech forests and so rainsoaked that silty runoff clouded the surrounding ocean. If we were to deice the planet in similar fashion again, global mean sea level would rise well over 200 vertical feet.
Many descriptions of the PETM focus on its onset and peak to illustrate today’s warming, but that was only the first chapter in a much longer story. What goes up must also come down, and the PETM’s temperature profile resembled a child’s playground slide with a steep ladder to the top and a long ride down as carbon dioxide was absorbed by seawater, rocks and sediments in a recovery that lasted more than 100,000 years. At the top of that slide, temperatures flipped from warming to cooling in a dramatic period of “climate whiplash.”
From the perspective of future generations, the whiplash and subsequent cooling that follows our own thermal peak could be as challenging as the warming. Species and cultures that will have adapted to centuries of rising temperatures, retreating ice, and advancing sea levels will then have to face strange new kinds of environmental change in reverse. For example, when global temperatures eventually begin to fall, the oceans will continue to swell because climates will still be warm enough to continue melting what remains of the polar ice sheets for thousands of years. Those who live through that long, strange period will face sea level rise and global cooling at the same time.
WE are not only warming the planet but also constructing and demolishing artificial worlds of the deep future. The thermal peak of a PETM reprise could last many thousands of years, long enough for future cultures and habitats to grow older than Babylon, and long enough for a greenhouse Earth to seem normal for hundreds of generations. But climate whiplash will eventually pull the rug out from under our later descendants. In that far future, there will be no more fossil fuels left to burn in order to sustain the artificial hothouse, and only a reduced, heat tolerant fraction of today’s cultural and biological diversity will remain to face an age of global cooling that could last as long as half a million years, far more than the entire history of anatomically modern humans up until now.
A switch from finite fossil energy to cleaner, renewable energy sources is inevitable: We are only deciding how and when to do it. That is what world leaders and policy makers will be grappling with at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that begins Monday in Paris. Much of the environmental harm that we have already done was unintentional, but now that science has exposed our role in it a new moral dimension has been added to our actions. Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment makes it clear that to continue taking a profligate carbon path is to sin against future generations and our own human dignity.
As pioneers of the Anthropocene, we are an immensely powerful force of nature and can accomplish great things if we not only learn what is scientifically true, but also do what is morally right. Pope Francis tells us that “there is nobility in the duty to care for creation.” As a climate scientist who welcomes international action to address climate change, I offer a heartfelt “Amen” to that. Curt Stager is a professor of natural sciences at Paul Smith’s College and the author of “Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth.”
© 2015 The New York Times Company
Being abroad in Iceland, during fall semester, was an amazing experience! After being in this country for nearly three months now, I can say with assurance that the natural and cultural landscape of Iceland is truly extraordinary. Trying to adequately epitomize this adventure wholly would be too extensive for the parameters of an article though, so I’ve chosen to concentrate on my involvement in the Sóleimar community.
Upon landing in Keflavik I remember not being able to see much of anything from my window seat; I soon realized Iceland was archetypical of a damp, overcast temperate climate. I had already met up with Sarah and Joe (fellow Smitties), Andrew, Jason, Brenton, Bryce, and Hank (one of our CELL instructors) at Logan International Airport in Boston, but it was in Iceland when we finally all came together. There were twelve of us: Andrew Siva, Brenton Kreiger, Bryce King, Dave Buenneke, Hans Tepel, Jason Brody, Jiaorui Jiong, Joseph Brod, Nicole Lorence, Sarah Harley, Serena Cueva, and myself. Karin Whittman and Hank Colletto would serve as our educators and mentors for the semester. Since our aeronautical peregrination was a red-eye flight, we were impaired the first few days from the ensuing jet lag, but during the following week and a half we gradual acclimatized to the village and our new home in the Brekkut guesthouse.
Before I elaborate upon our relationship with the community, a brief history of Sólheimar is necessary. Inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s theories on Anthroposophy (“Human Wisdom”) and Britain’s Camphill movement, Sesselja Hreindís Sigmundsdóttir founded Sólheimar (“The Home of the Sun”) in 1930 as an integrated home for children with and without disabilities. Sesselja’s emphasis on equality within her integrated community, and commitment to Sólheimar functioning as a home, not an institution, are still essential to the management of Sólheimar today. Another important date in the narrative of the community is April 1997, when “The Global Ecovillage Network” proclaimed Sólheimar the first sustainable village of the country. With more than one hundred people currently residing in Sólheimar, and forty-three individuals with special needs, the goal is now to give every individual an opportunity to live in a sustainable society.
A weekly aspect of our education in the Eco village was service learning in various departments of the community. Such subdivisions were: Sunna, a greenhouse complex and one of the largest producers of organic vegetables in Iceland; Ölur, the only organic forest nursery in Iceland, established in 1991;
Nærandi, the food production quarters in Sólheimar providing a wide range of baked food to not only the village, but also to stores in Reykjavik; Vala and Græna Kannan, the local shop and cafe in Sólheimar; and the candle-making, weaving, organic soap-making, art, ceramics and woodworking work shops.
Along with service learning, we had classes in: Icelandic history, language and culture; Global Warming, a course that identified our individual and collective power to shape an effective response to climate change, as well as an introduction to Iceland’s response to the crisis; Sustainability, a class that explored the field of sustainability, and identified the principles of voluntary simplicity in regard to there applications individual and communally; and Crossroads Thinking, a course that encouraged us to identify essential intellectual traits, question long-held assumptions or biases, evaluate ideas, reason honestly and open-mindedly, problem-solve, and form objective conclusions. These classes took place in Sesseljuhus and on weekend and day trips around Iceland. Additionally, for our Sólheimar Community project, I was given the chance to design and construct the framing for a community greenhouse, with Joe as an assistant. As a carpenter, I especially enjoyed this project and the opportunity to build a timber-framed structure from almost exclusively hand tools. In hindsight, I was privileged to get the chance to be involved in an assignment that had extant physical significance in the community.
Outside of class time, we had many ways to entertain ourselves. Sólheimar has a geothermal heated pool and hot tub, a gym and more importantly a ping-pong table, and miles of beautiful trails around the valley. Between activities with my fellow CELL students, home people, and EVS volunteers, I had no problem staying busy. Moreover, we were blessed with occasional outbursts of the Aura Borealis in the evenings; this phenomenon gradually occurred earlier in the evening in accordance to the six minutes of daily sunlight loss.
My experience in Sólheimar was nothing short of life changing. From my time in the ecovillage with this didactic sustainability study, I have identified several societal, environmental, and economical paradigms and am inspired to promote subsequent betterment. Additional, I would like to return to Sólheimar and volunteer in the community during an ecovillage tour, post college.