International Education On Greener Habits Vital To Climate Change Reversal

In Work and Life Settings, Individual Efforts Multiply For Greater Environmental Impact

If you check out the latest issue of International Educator, the flagship bi-monthly magazine of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, you’ll see an article starting on page 54 titled “Going ‘Green’” and exploring how international education offices and organizations are taking on an environmental stewardship role.

In the article, Cynthia Banks, executive director of GlobaLinks Learning Abroad, gives examples of forward-thinking green practices from universities and study abroad program providers, describes the momentum behind efforts within the field of international education to “go green” and explores some of the challenges inherent in an international educational process reliant on pollution-causing air travel.

The article, currently available only to NAFSA members and paid subscribers, is accompanied by a “Green To-Do List” of actions international educators and offices can take to reduce their negative environmental impacts.

The helpful check list reminded me how the daunting task of reversing global warming trends has to start with the education of individuals.

In other words, improve a person’s understanding of the larger issue and they are likely to incorporate more environmentally sustainable choices in their day-to-day lives. All of those little choices and greener actions – whether by school children, university students or adults at home and at work – add up to improvement on a larger scale.

Nearly full moon over Twin Sisters as night time arrives in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Nearly full moon over Twin Sisters as nighttime arrives in Rocky Mountain National Park July Fourth weekend 2009.

It is a point I saw reinforced this past weekend in the most majestic of settings: Rocky Mountain National Park here in Colorado on the night of the Fourth of July.

It came in the form of an educational talk titled “Rocky In A Time Of Change” by Rebecca Anderson, an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service and a scientist educated at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

In her presentation, Anderson explored these questions: What was Rocky like 10,000 years ago? What will Rocky look like in 100 years?

Rebecca Anderson, an interpretive ranger with the National Park Service at Rocky Mountain National Park, is pictured with an ice core during her study of climate change in Antarctica. Photo courtesy www.climateeducation.org.

Rebecca Anderson, an interpretive ranger with the National Park Service at Rocky Mountain National Park, is pictured with an ice core during her study of climate change in Antarctica. Photo courtesy http://www.climateeducation.org.

She started her presentation with photographs of herself bundled up in a parka and standing on snow and ice fields on both ends of the Earth.

In fact, Anderson in early 2008 endured Antarctica – the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth – to drill, recover and study the air, dust and chemicals in a 580-meter ice core. The core, which you’ll see her pictured with here in an article posted on PhysOrg.com, is the first section of what will eventually service as record of the Earth’s climate history dating back 100,000 years, including a precise year-by-year record of the last 40,000 years.

So, even though only eight of us braved the post-rainstorm chill at the Moraine Park Amphitheater that night, we knew within the first few minutes of Anderson’s presentation that we’d stumbled upon someone with deep and hands-on knowledge of climate change.

In a nutshell, Ranger Anderson, who besides working as a member of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet ice-core drilling project had also studied ice caps on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, gave strong evidence of the Earth’s warming in graphs and photographs of the many impacted world treasures, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. She also showed how even though Rocky Mountain National Park’s glaciers had yet to show significant signs of global warming, the almost 100-year-old national park in general is experiencing warming effects in other ways when compared with historical data, most predominantly in the many lodgepole pine trees killed by the rapidly spreading native pine-beetle infestation.

Probably most telling in her talk was her point that scientists are not in great disagreement over the problem of global warming and human actions as its cause. In fact, they put their own number on it: 90% certainty.

Then, she asked: What can you do?

First, she showed a funny slide of a man with his head buried in the sand. While many people are, unfortunately, operating in such a way, Anderson instead recommended individuals find a way to:

1) Use Less Energy

2) Educate themselves and others on climate change

When Anderson isn’t working seasonally for the National Parks Service, she continues her educational outreach by talking with young people through the Alliance For Climate Education. Based in California, the organization was launched in spring 2009 to inspire, educate and empower students in the fight against global warming through age-appropriate presentations. To learn more, check out this video.

The group’s innovative graphics and presentation approaches certainly taught the young people in my life a few things. In fact, my 8-year-old daughter asked us to keep the lights off when we returned to our camper so we’d use less energy.

Rain's Reward: A rainbow ends in Moraine Park in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rain's Reward: A rainbow ends in Moraine Park in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park.

For my part, I was inspired to unplug more and drive less, do more with less in general and recycle more precisely. I can also speak more confidently about what I know and what I’ve seen regarding climate change.

The situation is certainly real and scary. But it is not irreversible – something I learned on a July Fourth night against a backdrop of stars and the Rocky Mountain range.

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