Focus the Nation draws attention to the environment

Two thousand SF State students joined hundreds of thousands across the country last week in brainstorming solutions to global warming.

Focus the Nation, a nationwide teach-in on global warming solutions, ran from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Jan. 30 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Jan. 31 in Jack Adams Hall. It featured dozens of speakers, ranging from SF State professors to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who chimed in exclusively to SF State via remote video feed.

Though keynote speakers and panels discussed global warming from an array of angles—its relationship with social justice, how it could impact the Bay Area and what some are already doing about it, to name a few—the prevailing message was that the fight against it needs help from those in the audience.

Global warming presents a mountainous challenge, and changes to individual lifestyles “won’t move the mountain,” said Glenn Fieldman, professor of environmental studies. True steps forward will require laws and policy that can effect real change with the help of millions, so for those who want to make a difference, “think about politics differently,” Fieldman told the audience. “Being engaged as a citizen is fulfilling. We really are social beings. If you may find something of great value for yourself,” she said.

Kenn Burrows, a lecturer of holistic health at SF State, agreed. In America, “we’ve slipped from being citizens to consumers. When we have a sense of connection and community, we have a future worth something,” he said to students during the discussion entitled “What You Can Do.”

“Reach out—there’s a good chance that somebody is there,” said Bryan Ting, president of ECO Students, SF State’s student group for the environmentally conscious. Ting said that energetic students have made major changes on campus despite going to what he called a “commuter school” and that he pledges to “not take the world I enjoy for granted. I can—and will—make a difference,” he said.

Campus administrators and staff stressed that SF State has already done significant work toward “greening” the university and that this year would see much more.
SF State President Robert A. Corrigan said in a 15-minute address to the audience that he was delighted to see that “so many students took a keen interest in the largest teach-in in the history of the United States.”

The university has long been interested in the environment, saving energy through improvements in natural landscaping, closing the campus between Christmas and New Year’s Day and constructing a cogeneration plant over the years. “We were a ‘green’ campus long before the word was popularly used,” Corrigan said.

But recent efforts reflect the breadth and depth of SF State’s commitment to the environment and to reducing its impact on it, he said. The business department began offering a master’s degree with an emphasis in sustainable business last fall and is the first California State University to do so. He acknowledged the recent efforts of the Housing Eco-Friendly Resident’s Organization and a server virtualization project that the university’s Division of Information Technology underwent to save energy and added, “I could go on with examples.”

Global warming issues are social justice issues, and higher education has always had the power to shape social change, Corrigan said. “We have the power to bring intellectual and social change, and with that comes an equally large responsibility. I congratulate you and wish you much success,” he said.

Robert Hutson, associate vice president of campus facilities, echoed Corrigan’s theme. “We’ve been working for a long time on a lot of things. The thing we need most now is you. We really need your help with this,” he said during a panel discussion entitled “SF State’s Response to Climate Change.”

Hutson also introduced new Recycling Coordinator Caitlin Fager, who began working at SF State about five weeks ago. Fager said she was excited to work with the university’s many environmentally conscious students on projects like an upcoming greenhouse gas emissions inventory and diverting 75 percent of the campus’ solid waste from the landfill by 2010.

Student attendees varied from savvy environmental studies majors to curious newcomers, and many came with their classes, as organizers had hoped. Many said they appreciated what they saw and that students need to become more aware of global warming.

Andrew Scroggy checked out one hour of the conference on Jan. 31 and said that was enough for him. The lecture he saw, though, was “very informative. The panelists knew what they were talking about,” Scroggy said. When asked if Focus the Nation was important for students to see, the 23-year-old criminal justice major replied, “Absolutely.”

Increasing awareness and educating people about climate change is important because “I think there’s a lot of people who don’t care. People with air conditioning say ‘Who cares about the world rising one degree?’” said Indigo Goodson, 21. The Africana studies major said she’s willing to spend less time in the shower, take public transportation more often and place her food scraps into compost bins once they become available on campus. “I’m willing to scrape the chicken bones off my plate,” she said.

“When you get any group of ordinary people together and share ideas, like improving biking and adding bike paths, you think about things you don’t ordinarily think about,” said Marc Brown, a 26-year-old philosophy major. Brown said that the audience’s deep general knowledge about discussion topics surprised him. When one claimed that reducing enough emissions to make a difference would drop America’s standard of living to that of a developing country, for example, another piped in with experiences from some developing countries and said the people there are happier than is commonly believed, he said.

Samera Edwards, 18, said she saw just the last two hours, but the teach-in left her “interested in learning more.” The international relations major said the ways in which she was expected to help could be clearer. “More awareness. There needs to be specific things we can follow. There are tons of people who don’t know about it. I’m willing to recycle more and learn more,” she said.

“The question isn’t ‘What can I do?’ It’s ‘What am I willing to do?’” said Melissa Eng, a graduate student from Davis attending the event with Brown. “We need to build awareness about the problems. I’ll join an activist group, see what my options are,” said the 25-year-old.

Ayumu Josha, 26, said she lived in Japan for 20 years and that people are more conscious about environmental issues, particularly recycling solid waste. The business major measured her carbon footprint at a display near the hall and found hers to be nearly twice the world average despite not driving a car because of her air travel habits. While students “should just worry about the little things like waste and cars,” America “needs to be a role model” in the fight against global warming, she said. Josha, Edwards and Goodson all came to Focus the Nation with their geology classmates.

When it was all over, Fieldman said Focus the Nation succeeded at SF State. “Focus the Nation is over, but climate change isn’t going to go away,” said the professor and panelist who helped put it all together. The turnout, estimated by Fieldman and others at around 2,000 people, “says a lot about how the campus responded. We’re delighted.” About 1,000 officially signed in, “and we know that a lot didn’t, so add half again or double that,” she said.

The event, the first of its kind and which has not yet been confirmed to happen next year, comes as the “latest climate news is very troubling. It was very sobering to talk about the news from around the world. It just underlined how important this is,” Fieldman said. The good news is that Focus the Nation “was a tipping point in saying about campus activism with regards to climate change—it’s here. Those who missed the teach-in won’t miss the movement.”



Jennifer Salgado | staff photographer
English literature major Sean Carpenter stands in front of the many booths at the Focus The Nation on Wednesday, Jan. 30. "I'm going to recycle light bulbs and stop paying for tap water," said Carpenter.





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