Emory Climate Organization (ECO) will hold Climate Week from March 21 to April 4, an event that aims to “educate and activate Emory’s community on climate literacy so that climate action can be taken immediately,” according to ECO’s website.
The week is an offshoot of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), where nine Emory students and faculty observed climate change events and negotiations in Paris, France in December 2015, according to Eri Saikawa, an assistant professor in Emory’s Department of Environmental Studies who attended COP21 as a delegate. The students and faculty who attended the conferences are part of “Paris is an Explanation: Understanding Climate Change at the 2015 United Nations Meeting in France,” a Coalition of the Liberal Arts (CoLA) course that uses an interdisciplinary approach to look at climate change issues.
ECO, too, is a result of the students’ and faculty’s experiences at COP21, after which they decided to create an organization that would allow them to have a lasting impact with climate change issues on Emory’s campus, according to Saikawa.
Saikawa said that she was pleased that students took the initiative to found this organization, noting that the class created it after realizing that Climate Week cannot be a one-time event. Instead, it must be “a tradition that [ECO holds] regularly in order to be truly powerful.”
“A lot of the students who went to Paris are graduating, so we thought, ‘What can we do to perpetuate this in the future?’” Senior Lecturer in the Writing Department Sheila Tefft said. “We’ve built a core here, now let’s pass that on to the next classes of students, so they can carry this forward.”
The events of Climate Week will also parallel the interdisciplinary approach of the COP21 class, according to College junior Caiwei Huang and Tefft.
“There are ways for [students] to look at the [climate change] issue and be involved through their own particular discipline and perspective,” Tefft said. “It’s so important for all of us to be involved in our own way.”
College senior Mae Bowen, who took the CoLA course and worked with faculty and staff to promote dialogue, echoed this idea, noting that she hopes that the events of Climate Week will inspire Emory students to become involved in climate change issues, similarly to how COP21 inspired her to become involved with ECO.
“We are trying to take momentum from the Paris [COP21] Conference and what we learned last semester to make programming that will engage different parts of campus this semester,” Bowen said. “We’ve seen the activism around other issues, and we wanted to harbor that energy with groups around environmental issues.”
Bowen said that the process to plan these interdisciplinary events began while the students were in Paris, with each student going to different events such as watching government centric negotiations or visiting art exhibits. The social justice of individuals working with nonprofit organizations during the conference, in particular, inspired her.
ECO has also partnered with different groups on campus, including Volunteer Emory, [email protected], the Barkley Forum and various undergraduate sustainability groups, Bowen and College senior Tyler Stern said. These partnerships are critical, according to ECO’s website.
“Collaboration with other sustainability groups will be essential for deep, lasting change to occur, but the green tide is rising faster than ever at Emory,” ECO’s website states.
Saikawa agreed that engaging all members of the Emory community, as well as the greater community, will be critical for the future of climate change.
“[Change] cannot just be done by one person or one policy,” Saikawa said. “Everyone acting together is very essential.”
According to Tefft, “engaging the students makes all the difference.” Tefft also noted that while [email protected] is a faculty initiative, Climate Week is a student initiative that is representative of “how key the students are to addressing this enormous challenge of climate change.”
Similarly, Stern said that students of different academic backgrounds, including those of humanities, business and science, each had a different role in the COP21 conference in Paris.
Huang noted that there are also events that will appeal to visually-minded students, such as art and photo exhibitions. These exhibitions are a continuation of ECO’s Humans of COP21 project, which featured photos of and quotations from various individuals at COP21. There will also be debates and panels of students, as well as informational sessions and film screenings.
On March 23, there will be an information session entitled “What’s the Deal with the Climate Deal?” organized in conjunction with the Atlanta Science Festival.
The following week, on March 28, ECO will open a Climate Change Art Exhibition lasting for the entirety of the week, followed by an Earth Festival presented by the Office of Sustainability Initiatives on March 29 and an informational panel entitled “Change the System, Not the Climate: Environmental Justice Panel” on March 30.. There will also be a film screening of Years of Living Dangerously with Associate Director for Climate Change at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) George Luber on March 31.
Next month, to follow Climate Week, ECO will host Climate SALON, a TEDxEmory talk on April 2, as well as an informational session on April 4 entitled, “A Seat at the Table: Food as the Solution for Sustainability, Wellness and Equity.” Film screenings of Ice and Sky with the French Consulate and This Changes Everything with a panel discussion will also take place on April 6 and April 12, respectively.
In the future, ECO can continue to grow — because Emory has delegation status for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, its students can attend future Conferences of the Parties, such as COP22 in Morocco next year, according to Saikawa. Tefft added that ECO hopes Climate Week will be an annual event because it covers ongoing issues.
However, it is important for ECO to focus on engaging students through this year’s Climate Week, first and foremost, Bowen said.
Although Bowen believes students are proud of the sustainability already existing on Emory’s campus, the events during Climate Week will focus on a larger problem that examines climate change as an issue on a global scale, “a void that needed to be filled.”
“We’re all aware of the little things we can do to help the environment, but it doesn’t go much beyond that,” Bowen said. “We want Emory to be known not just as a sustainability focused school, but also as a climate-focused school.”
Huang agreed that the issue is important to be aware of, but noted that it should go beyond Emory’s campus, because it will “affect every industry in the future, from business to politics to social justice.”