Even before presidential candidates were discussing policies and implications, we were hit with An Inconvenient Truth, worries of ice melting in Antarctica and even questioned in Oxford if the “Ohio winter” would ever come. Global warming seemed to, pun intended, be a heated subject.
It seemed a most opportune climate then for Miami University’s Science Library’s annual orientation Oct. 5, 2007 to have a theme of global climate change, called Global Awareness and Information Access (GAIA).
This event set the tone for the Global Warming programming taking place on campus through April.
Eric Resnis, an engineering librarian, has been in charge of planning past year’s events, including last year’s activities with the Silk Road, and undertook coordinating all the video viewings and book discussions that GAIA is sponsoring. Resnis took a particular interest in the events when the science library decided on the GAIA theme, since he also serves as a librarian in the environmental science library. While he tries to be environmentally conscious in his daily life, from recycling to embarking on plans for his first vegetable garden, it’s not surprising that a man who works with multiple libraries is all about the information.
“Information access is required for awareness,” Resnis said. “That was the main purpose of the (science library open house) in October. It is hard to become informed if you don’t have access to the information, which is why the library has an important role in the process.”
A big idea gets going
Resnis went into the series with high expectations.
“My goal is just to open up to all perceptions, give the students all of the evidence from all sources,” Resnis said. “They can use them to make their own informed decisions.”
The first GAIA event was a viewing of the BBC’s Planet Earth Nov. 13. It was held in room 320 of King Library, where all the GAIA activities occur.
“We had a few people attend, we were hoping for more, but it came at a busy time. Around 10 to 15 people were there,” Resnis said.
The small group watched a few segments from the show and then had a discussion.
“Most people weren’t acquainted with the show so it was more a discussion towards the earth splendor than other things,” he said.
Resnis had to reschedule a viewing of Dimming the Sun, since it initially was the same night as Colin Powell’s speech, but he looks forward to the turnout April 21 when the NOVA film-which examines that sunlight reaching the Earth has grown dimmer-will be shown.
Despite the slow start, Resnis expects a change of pace for the upcoming book discussion he is facilitating about Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, a fictional novel that uses climate change evidence. It will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 and close to 50 people have signed up already.
Resnis expects that most people will have read the book before they attend and he plans to send out discussion questions to get people thinking in advance. So far he has encountered strong responses to the book, which will keep the conversation interesting.
“I’ll serve as a facilitator,” Resnis said. “Where the conversation goes, it goes.”
Global warming hits the classroom
Miami lecturer Heeyoung Tai has his students read excerpts from the book in his introductory chemistry course and 38 of his 120 students plan to participate in the discussion.
Tai explained that two years ago a student sent him an e-mail after reading State of Fear, wanting to know his thoughts on the book.
“At that time we were talking about air pollutions, fossil fuels and alternate energy sources in class,” Tai said. “I was very happy that one of my students is initiating a discussion on the topics that we talk about in class.”
The semester was almost over, but Tai told him he would read the book and think about it.
“After reading the book, I got very excited-the story was brilliant and very convincing-yet manipulative, in my opinion,” Tai said. “It was perfect for my class to get their critical thinking skills challenged.”
Tai wasn’t aware of the GAIA sponsored event when he selected the book, but is now offering attending the discussion as an alternative to a group research paper, and his students look forward to receiving a free copy of the book provided by the library.
Tai thinks that student-initiated activities are the most successful at improving the university’s environmental awareness. One such group is Green Oxford (GO).
Students take on the environment
Megan Ansley, a senior environmental studies major, is the communication vice president of the club that used to be known as Students for Sustainable Design and now is known as GO. The group has about 50 registered members of its own, but GO unofficially merged this week with the Environmental Action Committee (EAC) and now both groups hope to increase their attendance at weekly meetings. Ansley said the groups will officially be merged next year, but for now they have such similar missions about environment sustainability it made sense to work together.
“If you have a personal interest about the community and campus, it’s a good place to find people to support your cause,” Ansley said.
Ansley and the members of GO have been attending some of the GAIA programming.
“The ones I have gone to I have seen a lot of different people at and I like that,” she said.
The group offers committees for its members to choose and take action on the environmental causes of their choice, along with providing a mini lecture.
GO member Elliot Rossbach, another senior environmental studies major, is trying to find a way for the dining halls to convert their waste into biodiesel and use it in culinary support center vehicles.
“As of now the numbers are showing that this project could save the school money and have an impact on the overall carbon footprint, which would also hopefully aid in the schools goals for carbon neutrality,” Rossbach said.
He feels that Miami has been very supportive of his GO project so far.
“I think the awareness is becoming broader … I think it is something that involves and encompasses more people,” Ansley said.
Ansley expressed that she feels global warming is becoming an everyday kind of issue and something that people can no longer ignore.
Resnis hopes this is the case. He has also created a GAIA blog as a place to post new articles on global warming and information about the events, which is open for student comments and posting.
“I have been very pleased with the support from the campus and the community for this series of events,” Resnis said. “I hope that these events will inform people about campus and community resources that they may not have known about previously.”
Besides the Crichton discussion and the rescheduled viewing of Dimming the Sun, there will be a book discussion on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver April 8. Copies are available at King Library.
Beyond the books
When it comes to the nonfictional side of global warming, Tai feels that it will impact the presidential election and how students will vote.
“I think Miami students are very much aware of the issue of global warming,” Tai said. “It seems that they do not know what to believe and meanwhile they would naturally follow what is comfortable for them.”
He agrees with Resnis that the key to finding a stance is in information.
“They need to sharpen their critical thinking to observe and analyze the information available and put it into action,” Tai said. “I have met some students who just refused to believe the data (on global warming) because it has not happened before, and a lot of conclusion has been drawn from ‘predictions.'”
While Tai understands these concerns, he stresses that there is more to the scientific process than fortune telling.
“Theories, even if they ar
e not unchangeable rules, stood throughout many experimental challenges,” he said.
Tai hopes that Miami students are learning how to handle information and use these skills in their various future roles as leaders in the community.
“For a long time people were like ‘oh, I don’t know if it’s true or not,’ but especially with climate change it’s becoming more important,” Ansley said.
Ansley and GO are excited that Miami is offering events on the topic of global warming.
“It’s something we need to be aware of and it’s up to our generation to combat it,” she said.
Resnis agreed that students need to start addressing the issue with more concern.
“I see the evidence (for global warming) is there; we’re still learning to make a point as to what are long-term effects,” Resnis said. “We have to establish long-term effects, look at how dire it will be and what changes we need to make now.”
One way to make that change is through voting.
“I think that that’s definitely something that our generation is going to look at and not necessarily vote based on parties, but look at what individual candidates think about environmental issues,” Ansley said. “It has always been an issue before, but I think it is definitely more (of a) concern with actions of the current president.”
Even if students are on the fence about global warming or what candidate they wish to support in their interactions with the environment, Resnis feels knowledge is power.
“The easiest way to be informed about anything is to pay attention and listen, with a healthy dose of questioning and cynicism,” Resnis said. “It’s not so much about picking a side to an issue, it is more about evaluating the evidence and making informed decisions about the issues.”
Such information seems to be what Resnis and the GAIA series is all about.