College hosts inaugural summit on climate change

On Nov. 9, the College hosted the inaugural Maine College Action Summit, a full-day event for college students to discuss the broadening consequences of climate change and how collaboration can be used to mitigate some of those ramifications.

The event drew over 100 students from various Maine colleges and universities including Bates, Bowdoin, College of the Atlantic, the University of Maine at Farmington, the University of Maine at Orono, the University of New England, and the University of Southern Maine. Also represented were out-of-state students from Bard College and Dartmouth College.

The Summit was a collaboration between Colby’s Environmental Studies Program and the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment. Assistant Professor of Environment Studies Gail Carlson explained that planning for the summit began in August with several students from Colby Citizens Climate Lobby club (CCL) playing an integral role. 

Attendees packed into Ostrove Auditorium where the summit kicked-off. After the opening formalities, students watched a short movie produced by the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment and Emmy-winning Maine filmmaker Charles Stuart on regenerative agriculture techniques practiced at the Bumbleroot Organic Farms at Windham, Maine.

The process involves nourishing the soil while capturing carbon byproducts at the same time. The film is part of an ongoing series produced by Stuart about inspiring climate action in Maine. Colby students involved in the project include Conor Larkin `20, Megan Andersen `22, and Hania Lincoln-Lenderking `20.

Next, participants heard from environmentalist and co-founder of Bill McKibben, who received Colby’s 2015-2016 Mellon Distinguished Fellowship in Environmental Studies, via video recording.

McKibben spoke of the idea of strength in numbers and encouraged students to come together to achieve effective policies and actions. Other speakers included Sandy Buck `78. Buck is a philanthropist, long-time conservationist, and a member of Governor Janet Mills’s Climate Council. Buck directed attention to environmental issues facing Maine and reinforced the notion of voting in elections to ensure elected representatives believe in and prioritize climate change. 

The focal point of the day was keynote speaker Reverend Lennox Yearwood, who is an activist and founder of the Hip Hop Caucus, a non-profit with the goal of promoting political activism through the use of hip hop music and culture. Yearwood, who donned a baseball cap reading “Flint Still Doesn’t Have Clean Water,” addressed the crowd with the message of resisting fossil fuel interests. 

“Organized people beat organized money every single time,” he said.

The reverend also recalled some of the environmental activist movements in the 1950s to remind students the long-fought struggle is not nearly over. Yearwood’s speech concluded with the entire audience singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Following the speech, attendees were jumbled into random groups for lunch where they were encouraged to have free-range discussions on the day’s topic. In an interview with the Echo, Cindy Nguyen `20, the president of CCL, underscored the significance of holding discussions on climate change.

“Within the climate movement, it is important to note that each individual has a different experience and perception of climate change,” she said. “I think we need to realize that the world isn’t split into ‘those that acknowledge climate change’s existence’ and ‘climate deniers.’ It’s not ‘Democrats believe in climate change’ and ‘Republican’s don’t.’ Rather, people are fundamentally divided on how to address the climate crisis.”

On the topic of finding solutions for the climate crisis, Carlson outlined several research projects currently conducted by Colby faculty and students. Such projects include research by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Justin Becknell who investigates how tropical forests help mitigate climate change. Professor Carlson herself teaches a course called “Climate Change, Justice and Health.”

“The Buck Lab for Climate and Environment supports students and faculty who are doing climate change work through research grants, community engagement projects, student internships with Buck Lab partner institutions, programming, and career mentoring,” Carlson noted.

The Summit wrapped up with afternoon workshops. Participants were given the freedom to choose which ones to attend. Laura Drepanos `23 attended a workshop led by Maureen Drouin, the executive director of the Maine Conservation Voters, a political action committee that promotes climate action and government response. 

“I’ve been curious about how to get involved with climate action in Maine, so I enjoyed hearing about the work that the Maine Conservation Voters do,” Depranos said. “I also feel much more informed on local politicians’ stance on climate change after this workshop and believe this will help me become more politically involved in the future.”

While the ideas of the summit remain fresh in many minds, Carlson said she hopes to see the summit become a regular event hosted by Colby and other nearby colleges.

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