Bwogger Donna Qi attended the Climate Change Task Force Town Hall held in Low Library’s Faculty House to learn more about where the task force is currently stands with addressing climate change at Columbia University and to hear student input and questions. If you’re interested in learning more, they are holding another town hall on November 11th from 6:00PM to 7:30PM that you can register for or livestream!
This Friday in Low Library’s Faculty House, the chair of the Climate Change Task Force and Director of the Earth Institute Alex Halliday, Associate Professor of Social Work Courtney Cogburn, and Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture Amale Andraos held a Climate Change Task Force Town Hall. This was intended to discuss the work they have been doing within the task force, gather student input on how to meaningfully address climate change at Columbia, and take student questions. The town hall opened with Halliday discussing the objectives of the task force and what they hoped to get out of this town hall. He addressed how climate change is a multifaceted issue that encompasses a wide variety of disciplines across the whole university with no specific institute or school that can meaningfully address all the different problems within it. He remarked on how the people who were picked to be a part of the task force are all creative and energetic and feel a strong desire to combat the issue, as well as the fact that he hopes students feel empowered about this.
Throughout the introduction to the town hall, Halliday and Professor Cogburn raised questions to students on what kind of subjects we felt we needed about climate change, what needs to be inserted in our curriculum, how student voices should be included throughout the process, and also how in the process of formulating ways to combat climate change we need to rethink the responsibility of a university to both its students and those outside of the immediate community. After this, they opened up the floor to questions from students.
A highlight of the town hall was when a student from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs asked the members of the task force what it says about Columbia University as an institution to have invested so much energy into the Earth Institute and the Climate Change Task Force but simultaneously have millions in its endowment invested in the fossil fuel industry. The question drew applause from the audience and in response, Halliday remarked that the Climate Change Task Force has been looking at “divestment, the carbon footprint of the campus, what it is we’re all doing in our practices” and believes that it would be “hypocritical” for us to try to address climate change without changing our own actions, and there would be more announcements about this in the near future.
Another undergraduate student who is a member of the Sunrise Movement questioned whether or not President Bollinger would be signing the petition that they had brought to his office with signatures from Columbia students, parents, faculty, and other affiliates asking him to declare a climate emergency by December 1st, before the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Reading from her phone, the student stated that the commitments within this petition include “mobilizing more resources for actual climate change research and skills creation… committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest… and increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across the curriculum, campus, and community outreach programs.” Halliday responded by saying that this “was a very good point” and that President Bollinger believes so as well, noting that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the goals espoused by the petition and that an announcement about this will be made sometime in the near future.
An issue that came up frequently was the idea of creating a new climate school and what that would look like, but the members of the task force, Professor Cogburn in particular, were uncomfortable with that label. She remarked that it is still unclear whether or not it would be a school due to the connotations that would carry or whether or not there would be a physical space, so eventually, everybody settled on calling it a climate “entity.” When a student raised their concern about whether or not instituting a new school would mean further expansion in the Manhattanville community, the members of the task force recognized the controversy behind the Manhattanville expansion and noted that in the event that this climate “entity” actually takes up physical space, it would come from the land that Columbia already owns.
In response to some concerns about more microscopic changes that can be made to the Columbia community so that we lead by example, Dean Andraos offered a lot of insight into what can make the buildings at Columbia more environmentally friendly and green as some of them are quite old and are not well insulated. She noted that the climate “entity” could be an opportunity to showcase how renewable building and architecture can be used and also remarked that there are potentially changes that can be made to Columbia’s existing buildings as it would expend more energy trying to rebuild them to be sustainable.
There was also a lot of discussion on the integration of climatology and climate change into the core curriculums of undergraduate and graduate students and increasing the existing offerings. One student from the School of International and Public Affairs noted how many of their classmates in his Energy and Environment cohort go on to work for fossil fuel and energy companies and how a comprehensive climate education might deter Columbia students from pursuing those career paths in spite of their profitability. Some proposed that undergraduate students should all be required to take at least one course related to climate, and Halliday noted that he has been discussing with different departments the potential of offering more courses on climate because it is not a topic isolated to the sciences. Many students also noted how important it would be to take an interdisciplinary approach to help all students understand climate change, and in particular using areas such as the arts to communicate how we know what we know about climate.
At the end of the town hall, all the members of the task force present reiterated how important it is for Columbia students to be enthusiastic about combating climate change and leading the fight against it. They also recognized that the conception of a university as an institution is changing in terms of what it is supposed to do for its students but the community it is a part of and that the issue of climate change may be the key proponent of ushering in reimagining university. Professor Cogburn brought attention to the fact that while she has been skeptical in the past about similar initiatives as this Climate Change Task Force, that she is “very encouraged about where it’s going, the types of conversations [they’ve] been having.” Halliday closed the town hall by bringing it back to why this conversation matters. He boldly pronounced that “this is about the future of the planet, it’s about the future of civilization, it’s about the future of all humans, and this is about you… it is an opportunity, as well as a kind of responsibility we’ve all got to actually do something about this.”
Image via Bwogger Donna