Semester-long series at WMU focuses on climate crisis, inspiring change

Contact: Erin Flynn
An illustration of people practicing sustainable activities such as gardening, riding a bicycle and doing yoga as well as two individuals holding signs that read, "Water is Life" and "System Change not Climate Change."

Illustration by Nicole Krakowiak, WMU graphic design student.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is giving students a platform to take action on one of the most important issues to young people today: climate change.

"I already see a notable difference in our environment from when I was a child, and it’s only becoming more severe. I think a lot of students have it on their minds," says Meg Baldry, a human resource management and Spanish student. "Even from a young age, it’s felt like an ongoing issue that we knew we would be responsible for fixing. And it’s tied to everything: politics, injustice, infrastructure, economics—climate change truly affects every aspect of our lives."


According to a Pew Research survey, 76% of Generation Z Americans consider climate change a big concern and more than a third say it is their top concern. Western's Climate Change Working Group is shining a light on the issue and letting students lead the charge in a semester-long series titled "Climate Emergency: Spring into Action 2024." 

"Climate change is an existential threat to life on planet Earth. With this semester-long series, the WMU Climate Change Working Group together with a range of partners aims to raise awareness of the threats posed by climate change and to educate about potential responses on personal, community and international levels," says Dr. Steve Bertman, professor in the School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability and chair of the Climate Change Working Group.

Dozens of events are planned for the series, which runs from January through April. They include student-led demonstrations and discussions, film viewings, faculty- and staff-led workshops and lectures, and events hosted by community groups, which will educate students and community members on climate justice, sustainability and ways to fight climate change as individuals, such as recycling, food resourcing and meat consumption, clothing sustainability and conservation of natural resources.

"We know now that climate change is here, that the harms are not just something in the future," says Dr. Paul Clements, professor of political science and member of the Climate Change Working Group. "As educators, we have a responsibility to both educate and help prepare our students as citizens to be active in terms of trying to limit all the harms from this but also to be aware that this is something that they're facing in their lives."

Lee Honors College will host climate-related events in the lounge every Wednesday at noon throughout the semester beginning Wednesday, Jan. 17. Several registered student organizations have also planned events throughout the semester, including a Green Week spearheaded by the Western Student Association that is slated for March. A graduate symposium on Thursday, Feb. 15, will also feature research presentations by a number of master's students.

"I think the more we talk about (climate-related) issues, the better it is and the more we raise awareness," says May Mbenoun, who is pursuing a master's degree in international development administration and will be presenting at the symposium. "Sometimes people just talk about climate change; we want to call for action."

A group of people stands in front of a projector screen.

Members of Western's 2020 Medallion Scholar cohort helped organize the Student Sustainability Summit, pictured here with Dr. Irma Lopez, dean of Lee Honors College, left; WMU President Edward Montgomery, center; and Dr. Steve Bertman, right.

Students will have opportunities to write to legislators, practice techniques to ease climate anxiety, build plant-based snack boxes and learn about sustainable farming at various events planned throughout the semester. Western's third annual Student Sustainability Summit, which is still in planning phases, will also be part of the Climate Emergency: Spring into Action 2024 series. Baldry, a member of the 2020 Medallion Scholar cohort that has helped organize the event, sees these events as opportunities for students to become active sustainability advocates.

"WMU is the exact right place to cultivate sustainability student leaders," she says. "I think students are pretty aware of the dangers and impact of climate change; the hard thing is doing something about it and not letting the fear turn into hopelessness. I think it’s crucial for students to face this as a community and start small."

"We need everyone everywhere to fight this intergenerational crisis. It's a movement, and we have no choice but to win," adds Jeff Spoelstra, director of Western's Office for Sustainability.

More information on the series and the growing calendar of events is available online.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.