KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades, and the impacts of climate change are now being felt around the globe—from increasing extreme weather events to decreasing crop production. Western Michigan University aims to shine a light on the growing issues and call for action throughout the month of March, which the University's Climate Change Working Group has declared Climate Emergency Month.
"We're talking about millions of climate refugees already unable to make a living in their ancestral homeland and looking for new places to live. You have low-lying island nationals that are being relocated because the land where they've lived for 1,000 years no longer supports life. We have forest fires and floods and droughts and heat waves that are jeopardizing human health, ecosystem health and biodiversity," says Dr. Steve Bertman, professor of environment and sustainability and chair of the working group. "We're in a crisis."
The group, comprising faculty and staff from various disciplines and departments across campus, is partnering with a number of student organizations, academic colleges, University departments, local and statewide organizations, businesses and community groups to host a monthlong series of events to "focus on the urgency of the crisis at global and local levels, on taking action and ensuring justice."
"There is momentum that I haven't felt in the last two decades of people starting to stand up and take notice, and we want to really make a big push," Bertman says.
Students are a big part of that momentum. The climate crisis is consistently listed among the top concerns for Generation Z—those born between 1997 and 2012—and is evident in the growing number of registered student organizations on campus dedicated to sustainability and environmental action and justice.
"It's something everyone should be involved in and interested in, because it's our future," says Hannah Philo, president of the Students for a Sustainable Earth. "What we do now affects not only us but our children, our family, everything."
Climate Emergency Month begins with an address from Bill McKibben, one of the foremost climate activists in the world, on Wednesday, March 1, and culminates with the 2023 Student Sustainability Summit on Friday, March 31. Throughout the month, there will be a wide range of programming designed to engage the campus and local community—from lectures and discussion panels to meditation sessions, vegan cooking classes, sustainable craft workshops and even an electric vehicle show.
"There's a place for everyone, no matter where you're at in terms of your environmental and sustainability journey," Philo says. "I hope everyone leaves with a piece of knowledge that helps them feel at ease or makes them feel a little more hopeful they can make a change."
The Western Student Association is also sponsoring a Green Week during the last week of March and is currently working on a slate of events to encourage Broncos to get engaged.
"WSA is the representation of the student body—a student body that cares about environmental protection and mitigation of the climate crisis," says Brendan Mortensen-Seguin, director of sustainability for WSA. "We hope that by both sponsoring Climate Emergency Month events and collaborating as students with community members, we can send a much broader message: We want change!"
Bertman is encouraged by the message and by the collaboration Climate Emergency Month has sparked throughout the community.
"We're talking about sustainability. We're talking about ensuring a liveable planet for people, for animals, for crops," Bertman says. "It's time to take real, measurable action—there's really no time to waste."
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