More than 100 Students Jump into 39 Degree River To Draw Attention to Global Climate Change
St. Mary's College of Maryland students ran into the 39-degree waters of the St. Mary's River to "rescue" a polar bear from rising seas during the Focus the Nation event's second annual polar bear splash. (Photo courtesy SMCM)
ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. (Feb. 2, 2008) - Calling the generation of college students in the audience "the first 'carbon constrained society," Lloyd Timberlake tackled the problems of global climate change and the politics getting in the way of a solution. Timberlake, an adjunct professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM), joined a dozen other professors and guest speakers during a campus-wide Teach-In. He said this generation of college graduates will be the first to enter the workforce and adulthood with the need to reduce carbon emissions in order to combat climate change.
Students listened and demonstrated their commitment to the environment by jumping into the cold St. Mary's River in the second annual Polar Bear Splash. With air temperatures in the mid 40's and water temperatures of 39 °F, 100 students and a few professors and administrators put a fun spin, and a shiver, on the serious discussion of global warming.
"A lot of people are getting the basics about climate change, but the talks today gave us a more detailed analysis, and the impact on developing nations and the economy," said Shane Hall, '09. Hall is one of the student leaders in the College's Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC). Hall said, "Al Gore's film ended with a lot of questions, and we've had about two years to debate how we are going to attack this problem and stay on top of it."
SMCM joined more than 1,500 U.S. colleges and universities pushing the environment to the top of election-year discussions during the "Focus the Nation" events this week. The "Teach-In" brought a diverse disciple of academics who tag teamed a frank and fact-filled presentation about what could happen with a warmer climate and sea level rise.
"Today's polar bear splash by the St. Mary's students is not to raise funds, but rather to raise awareness of a global issue," said Dr. Randy Larsen, who coordinated the event. "Decisions made today on how we use energy and consume natural resources will have a tremendous impact on the quality of life for generations to come."
"Global warming is another example of the tragedy of the commons," said Michael Cain, associate professor of political science and acting director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. The tragedy of the commons is an economic term used to describe what happens when people share a common resource but don't take care of it.
Cain continued, "Most people think that global warming needs to be solved by government, but Americans feel strongly about individual liberty and are suspicious about restrictions on their liberty. Even if college students want their government to attack global climate change, it will take an incredible diligence on the part of individuals, governments and markets." He added, "In the presidential primaries, global warming is not yet an important issue for the candidates or the electorate."
During the Teach-In, professors listened to their colleagues side by side with students. One of the students, Jennifer Yogi, '09, wanted to know how poor people respond to this environmental challenge. Asif Dowla, SMCM professor of economics, addressed this concern in his presentation. Dowla spoke of the impact on poor countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. He showed contrasting maps of the rich nations producing the most carbon dioxide, and the poor countries expected to experience a disproportionate larger damage from drought and sea level rise caused by emissions from rich countries. Dowla used examples from his native Bangladesh to show the impact of climate change on small coastal nations and how disease will follow floods and cyclones caused by these changes. He cited scientific predictions that savannas will replace tropical forest in Amazonia and reduce biodiversity. Localized wars will result from the loss of fresh water and resources, he said, and asked, "If we do nothing, and let these people vanish, will we not be committing sort of a climate genocide?"
Also speaking at the Teach-In were Kate Abend, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Bert Drake, Ph.D., of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), David Kimmel, Ph.D., of Horn Point Laboratory, Patrick Megonigal, Ph.D., of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and David E. Carlson, Ph.D. from BP Solar.
The day-long event included a Sustainability Fair in the College's Athletics and Recreation Center (ARC). Participating local businesses included Solar Tech Inc., Shaklee Cleaning Products, Friends of Myrtle Point, Green-well Foundation, Inc., St. Mary's Soil Conservation District, St. Mary's County Recycling Center, Jane Goodall Institute, Patuxent River Naval Air Station (NAS) Hazardous Waste Program, Patuxent River NAS Recycling Program, Patuxent River NAS Environmental Program, St. Mary's River Program, ReStore-Habitat for Humanity, SMECO, Clean Current, The Good Earth Natural Foods Company, Calvert Marine Museum, Tri-Beta Biology Club, Chesapeake Climate Action NetworkWicomico Scenic River Commission, Southern Maryland Audubon Society, Patuxent River Association, and Toyota of Southern Maryland.
Focus the Nation events at SMCM are a collaborative effort of the Student Environmental Action Coalition, the Center for the Study of Democracy, the environmental studies program, Tri-Beta, the campus sustainability committee, and the Natural Science and Mathematics colloquium committee. For more information on nation-wide Focus the Nation initiatives, visit their website at www.focusthenation.org.