A college student’s duty to fight climate change


Image from “Climate Change is Everybody’s Business” and Harry Blutstein

Rebekah Hedeen, Features Editor

Paul Crutzen, a Dutch scientist, passed away on Jan. 28.

Crutzen was known for the coining of the word “Anthropocene” meaning “​relating to the current age, viewed as the period during which human activity has had the greatest influence on climate and the environment” from the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Crutzen informed the public of the dangers that aerosol products produced for the ozone layer and his work has exceeded his life.

Climate change on UC’s campus has been an underlying topic for years among students and staff, with some members of the community prompting the college to promote green alternatives. Committees such as the Sustainability Committee have sparked from the Student Government Association, while Sodexo had a “Better Tomorrow Commitment” a few years ago.

Dr. Rachel Wolfe, assistant professor of theater, has given some suggestions for the student body and the administration to implement in order to continue Crutzen’s legacy and create a healthier campus.

  • Replacing college-owned vehicles (security vehicles, field trip busses, etc.) with electric models
  • Adding dedicated EV charging stations to some of the parking spots in campus parking lots
  • Putting pressure on our dining services partner, Sodexo, to completely abandon disposable plates/cutlery/cups for events, which are a major culprit in emissions from landfills
  • Updating the heating systems in our buildings to zero-emissions alternatives
  • installing solar arrays on the roofs of college buildings to generate our own clean energy in-house
  • Converting wide swaths of lawn to pesticide-free native plant landscaping (In case you don’t know: lawns do not sequester carbon, because each time they are mowed–usually by gas-powered riding mowers–the carbon in the blades of grass gets re-released into the atmosphere as they are cut. Biodiverse gardens of native plants not only strengthen local ecosystems but also sequester carbon in the soil at much higher rates and, if not subjected to pesticides, support pollinator populations that ensure the success of our nearby farms. We already have a budget for landscaping, used to pay the people who ride the gas mowers and swap out our continuously-rotating non-native flowerbeds. Why not pay them to convert greenhouse-gas-emitting lawns to native gardens, instead?)

Wolfe is not the only member from the UC community who cares about the well-being of the environment and creating a safe place for future generations, Junior Aaron Barsham also has strong feelings about the prosperity of the environment.

“Climate change, to me, is extremely important: it is a constantly threatening crisis that is affecting low-income communities hardest right now and threatens to change the entire world for the worse,” Barsham said. “Getting rid of it, and by all means stopping it, is extremely important to me as someone involved in politics locally and nationally.”

To invoke change on campus for the well-being of the environment, students should consider using the tactics that they have used for racial injustice awareness in the past to muster a response from the college for a happier and healthier environment.

“In recent years, our UC students have come together to demand the college focus on issues of iniquity and racial justice, which has led directly to policy changes and the creation of a DEI office within the college president’s cabinet,” Wolfe said. “UC students can use those same tactics to advocate for greening up the college and reducing our institution’s carbon footprint.”

Wolfe herself has set individual goals to reduce individual emissions, specifically in terms of her vehicle.

“When I moved to Utica two years ago to start my new job at UC, I set myself a specific goal of using my new salary to get off oil, which I have now done,” she said. “I swapped out the oil tank that was formerly used to heat my home for a zero-emissions air-source heat pump and traded in my gas car for a Tesla, which I am now very proud to drive to campus.”

Though electric cars may be a switch for some individuals, they are greener than oil. Students and faculty alike could create a better alternative for the future by switching to electric cars, using recycled materials, and avoiding aerosol products. A change for the better will only occur if everyone takes action and with an increase in pollutants, action must be taken before the damage made is irreversible.

“My dearest hope for the future is that this reality will sink in, and every single person will start making serious changes to their own lifestyle; not just reducing but eliminating oil use, not just abandoning plastic bags but abandoning plastic, not just supporting the conservation of wild areas but restoring habitat to their own yards, and so forth,” Wolfe said. “Because this problem will only be solved if we literally all pitch in, and pitch in 100%.”