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Saving ForestsWhat it’s Like at Columbia Climate School within the Green Mountains

What it’s Like at Columbia Climate School within the Green Mountains

What it’s Like at Columbia Climate School within the Green Mountains

Phebe Pierson and Adam Cooper
|July 19, 2021

From June 27 to July 9, we welcomed our first-ever cohort of scholars into the Columbia Climate School within the Green Mountains program. This system, in partnership with Putney Student Travel, welcomed 80 students from around the US to the Castleton University campus in Castleton, Vermont. The scholars participated in a two-week program to mobilize motion, drive impact, and affect change in response to our warming planet. Students engaged with faculty and staff from the Columbia Climate School and learned about cutting-edge research and innovations in motion. Students also got a probability to fulfill, collaborate, and construct partnerships with like-minded peers and tap into their collective strengths for motion.

The complete group of Climate School within the Green Mountains students and instructors. Photo by Phebe Pierson.

Below is a glimpse at what students experienced in the primary few days of this recent program, and the fun and academic activities they took part in.

Days within the Life

On the primary full day of activities, the scholars woke up in time for a 7am breakfast, and the day was already heating up. After breakfast, they split into their two groups. Group 1 absorbed a deep dive lecture by Lisa Goddard, a climate scientist at Columbia’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, whose research areas include near-term climate change, climate forecasts, and the assessment of climate prediction tools. She kicked things off with a session on the science of climate change, the fundamentals of world warming and Earth’s energy balance, the greenhouse gas effect, and the primary culprits of climate change. Goddard’s second session focused on climate projections and modeling — specifically how climate projections are made, how we anticipate climate variability to make adaptation decisions, and the way predictions might be brought into climate plans to assist reduce the impact of climate change on various communities.

Group 2 stayed outdoors within the shady grass behind one in every of the classroom buildings on campus, surrounded by leafy trees and a gazebo. Their instructors led them in an activity that they’d be working on for the subsequent couple of days, called Your Climate Story. This was focused around understanding how climate change is affecting their very own homes and communities. The instructors designated areas of the lawn with labels reminiscent of  “agree,” “disagree,” “sometimes,” etc., and proceeded to read out statements that the scholars could evaluate based on their experiences of their lives and communities. For instance, one statement was “My house is in danger as a result of climate change”; students sorted themselves into the assorted groups based on whether this statement accurately described their experiences. Instructors asked them to share, getting input from various groups across the lawn.

The responses for this query varied greatly. Students in this system got here from everywhere in the U.S. in addition to just a few other countries, so there have been some who were affected by drought and wildfires in California; some from Miami who were impacted by hurricanes and flooding; and others whose homes had not yet directly been impacted by climate change. The exercise made evident the wide range of how climate change is impacting lives across the country and the world, and the way it’s being perceived by students growing up in these conditions.

The 2 groups switched places after which broke for a brief lunch. After their meal, the scholars again split for 2 activities. One group returned to work on their climate stories — this time within the air conditioned Campus Center — and the opposite went to a lecture by Art Lerner-Lam, senior advisor to the co-founding deans of the Columbia Climate School and a seismologist by training. Lerner-Lam taught an intro to sustainability, covering the fundamentals of the discipline and emphasizing the importance of a systems approach.

That afternoon, the scholars broke into multiple small groups to enjoy some non-academic activities or free time. Some lounged on campus or played lawn games; one other group walked across the Castleton sports fields and to the sting of the forest, where they investigated the health of the creek just out of view of the fields. Instructors Pam McWilliams and Kristin Nakaishi (educators in Denver and Philadelphia, respectively, through the academic 12 months) explained to the group that depending on what invertebrates they found living within the creek, they might make an informed guess as to how healthy the stream was. Certain freshwater stream creatures only can survive within the cleanest of waters; others are far more resilient.

Armed with cheesecloth, buckets, and low filters, the creek group jumped within the water and began turning over rocks and looking out closely on the bed of the creek. It didn’t take long for the primary students to yelp and showcase what they found. Multiple crayfish were spotted, just a few with eggs or baby crawfish nestled under their tails — a surprise to everyone, including the instructors! The group also saw a few stoneflies, slugs, and snails. Based on their observations, they were capable of determine that the Castleton creek is incredibly healthy.

That evening after dinner, the scholars trekked downhill to Castleton’s fire pit, set beside an exquisite pond and surrounded by forest on one side and a view of campus on the opposite. With help from Laurel Zaima from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the group got the hearth began in preparation for a fireplace chat with Art Lerner-Lam. After the group settled in, he talked with them about what strategies they’d been using of their communities to fight climate change, what they saw working, and what they wanted to enhance. He emphasized the importance of working along with others who’re already within the space, and constructing off of movements which can be already happening. When the talk concluded, the scholars swarmed the s’mores supplies because the sun set and the day finally began to cool off.

On Thursday, the group visited Burlington Electric, the town’s municipal power company, where General Manager Darren Springer introduced them to the organization. This photo was taken just after he told the group that Bernie Sanders had visited the day before.

On Wednesday, the scholars’ second full day of programming, they spent their morning and afternoon blocks split between Lerner-Lam and Laurel Zaima. Lerner-Lam taught a lesson on achieving sustainability; meanwhile, Zaima taught an interactive session on how climate change is affecting different geographical areas in other ways. Zaima, a marine science and biology educator at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, worked with students to grasp how climate change is impacting their communities. By reading through the National Climate Assessment, students collaborated in teams to grasp the impacts affecting different regions of the U.S., used the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit to explore hazards/assess risk/prioritize and plan/take motion, and started to place together communication motion plans for tackling climate change.

Within the afternoon, the scholars selected from a wide range of extra-curricular activities. One group went on a brief hike with instructor Zach, collecting ferns, moss, and other plants that do well in damp environments, in order that they might construct their very own closed-loop glass terrariums. Back on campus under the open-air pavilion, they filled glass jars with soil and charcoal, and nestled their finds on top.

After dinner that night, students had free time and Zaima held office hours under the pavilion. Students were working on Climate Motion plans for his or her hometowns, which they were set to present at the top of the week, and a few wanted help with their work. Zaima sat at a table with the group while the sun set over the forest and sports fields and answered questions and gave feedback, addressing the group in addition to more specific questions.

On Thursday, the scholars got a change of pace with a field trip. After breakfast, they boarded buses that took them on an hour and a half drive into downtown Burlington, VT, where they spent the morning shopping, eating, and wandering about town. After lunch, the group headed to Burlington Electric, the municipal power company for the City of Burlington. General Manager Darren Springer presented to them concerning the company, detailing where the ability comes from (100% renewable!), incentives they provide to their customers for saving power, and the way they balance rising prices while keeping customers blissful. Darren also detailed how climate change has altered consumption patterns: Vermont used to make use of more energy within the winter than the summer, as a result of heating needs, but now that has switched as winters have grown milder and summers have grown hotter.

The scholars had dozens of questions for Darren about every aspect of the business, from policymaking to how they maintain their renewable resources, and the way their office is working to be more sustainable internally. He had solid answers for everybody, satisfying this curious group of scholars.

The following stop in Burlington was the University of Vermont, where the scholars were treated to a panel discussion featuring energy professionals from across sectors in Vermont. After introductions by Suresh Garimella, the president of the University of Vermont, panelists discussed policies and initiatives happening in Vermont which have led the state to becoming a frontrunner in renewable energy and clean power. The panel was moderated by Jared Duval of the Energy Motion Network and featured Carol Weston (director of Efficiency Vermont), Darren Springer (general manager of Burlington Electric), and Liz Miller (VP of Sustainable Supply and Resilient Systems and chief legal officer of Green Mountain Power).

Coming to an answer in a collective is quite a bit more difficult than it appears. Over the subsequent few days, students deepened their understanding of climate science issues by role playing. They negotiated relationships with peers in experiential lessons to develop climate solutions while not sacrificing their very own character’s values. Students also studied their relationships to climate change—as culprits impacting the climate, as recipients adapting to climate change, and as agents influencing positive change. Many students thought they already had an understanding of the ways their lives intersected with our climate, but we challenged them to see more complex layers in their very own climate story.

A sample community climate motion plan. Photo by Cassie Xu.

In one other off-campus tour, the scholars visited Blane De St. Croix’s exhibit, “The right way to Move a Landscape,” on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Students considered the interplay of art and climate science, interdisciplinary relationships, and geopolitical landscapes as a part of this tour. Most of the exhibit’s works were inspired by research expeditions that St. Croix accompanied.

The second half of this system began with Tom Chandler and Joshua DeVincenzo of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia. They covered topics with the scholars starting from protecting community assets and whole community approaches to disaster response, to strategies for disaster response and recovery. On the morning of July 6, students walked right into a noisy classroom hall with the panoramic sounds of radio calls and updates from an audio recording from an actual Emergency Operation Center (EOC). Moments later, they were assigned to perform the standard roles in an activated EOC responding to a fictional hurricane hitting Castleton’s Campus and surrounding area. The simulation was a lesson in responding to risks and hazards.

Through long-term resiliency and preparedness stages, the exercises from Chandler and DeVincenzo challenged students to think about the way in which they responded to climatological events. Most of the subjects they covered and the simulation exercise mirrored the content they use across the country to have interaction communities in disaster preparedness. Of their seminar about responding to climate deniers, Chandler and DeVincenzo discussed the complexity of the external world and gave students tips about finding common ground with individuals who hold different world views.

The arrival of Lisa Dale, lecturer within the Undergraduate Major in Sustainable Development at Columbia University, signaled the conclusion of college visits, and a tour de force of educational programming. She led seminars in science policy and science communication along with hosting a climate change negotiation simulation.

Her session on climate policy began with an interactive lecture on the basics of climate change policy. We explored the importance of each international and domestic policy layers, and regarded the differences between mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Once students understood how international climate treaties work, we launched right into a mock U.N. climate negotiation exercise called the World Climate Simulation. Students were assigned a rustic or interest group to represent, given briefing materials to assist them prepare, and guided through two rounds of negotiations. Meanwhile, Dale played the role of U.N. leader. By the top of the three+ hour session, the group had succeeded in developing proposals that might potentially limit global warming to 2 degrees! They were engaged, animated, and committed to their assigned role; perhaps more importantly, this experiential learning activity was fun and memorable. The simulation’s message was clear: continuing business as usual was not going to get us there.

Dale’s later session on climate communication was intended to assist students each communicate science more effectively and turn out to be more aware of their very own challenges in learning recent scientific information. We explored scholarly models that provide different pathways for communicating, and we considered some insights from psychology about how people learn recent information. Students were then guided through an activity to speak a scientific finding of their alternative in a single minute. After sketching out their talk and practicing with a peer, several brave students performed their piece for the group.

After 12 days of faculty-led workshops, students developed passion projects to handle the results of climate change of their hometowns. Delivered as three-minute pitches, presentations targeted policy, infrastructure, and the environment. Ten students were chosen to present their work to Columbia Climate School faculty and leadership in late July, and we cannot wait to share their ideas with you all!

Looking Ahead

The Columbia Climate School team has been blown away by the eagerness, engagement and knowledge of all of our participants, and we’ve learned a lot from them through our various lectures and workshops. We look ahead to involving one other group of scholars on this pre-college program in summer 2022. We’re also planning additional climate teaching programs in numerous locations, so stay tuned for more information. We’re so excited to see what comes next!

To learn more concerning the Columbia Climate School within the Green Mountains program, please contact Cassie Xu (cassie@ei.columbia.edu)


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