Colorado State University student Kaydee Barker rides buses or her bicycle for transport, buys only used clothing, and eats vegetarian local food – aligning her actions with efforts to contain climate warming.
She’s among the students and researchers from Colorado universities who went to Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 climate summit this week. At home, they’re pushing campus administrators to create climate-friendly lifestyles. And, at this 12-day summit, Barker and others are sharing ideas with thousands of young participants from around the world for achieving the 2015 Paris agreement targets that would limit warming to 2.7 to 3.6 degrees (Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
The COP26 summit “is definitely the breeding ground for ideas and, hopefully, optimism,” said Barker, 30, who grew up in Steamboat Springs and is studying ecosystem science with a focus on soil.
A growing “climate action army led by young people” appears “unstoppable,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Monday at the summit, where he warned of approaching “tipping points” leading to uncontrollable heating.
Students from Colorado have been “putting pressure on our administrators to have the campus do the right things,” said CSU ecosystem sciences professor Gillian Bowser, who is leading a group of six students in Glasgow. “It is a group that wants to roll up sleeves and dive in. Their time for complaining is over. Their time for being depressed is over. They want to do something.”
CSU students convinced school officials to install more bike lanes on the Fort Collins campus, offer more meatless meals, improve waste recycling, and launch an electric shuttle bus, Bowser said. Students also have requested more climate-related courses.
The “eco-grief” paralyzing students in recent years has given way to a sharper focus on practical action for limiting warming, CU environmental studies director Max Boykoff said. “We have moved through, collectively, disillusionment,” he said. “We’re now thinking: Let’s get on with this. How can we adapt? How can we reduce our emissions?”
Boykoff planned to monitor the summit from Boulder but a dozen University of Colorado students, staffers and researchers from labs surrounding the Boulder campus attended.
“If the system’s going to change….. we have to vote with our wallets,” CU staffer Gina Fiorile, 25, a program coordinator for the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, said in an email from Glasgow. Student participants discussed environmental impacts of beef production and suggested campaigns to “eat more plants and less meat so demand drops,” she said.
CU students since the 1970s have been demanding robust recycling. A few years ago, students occupied the CU chancellor’s office demanding divestment of CU Foundation Funds from fossil fuel companies. This year, a school survey of students found 94% came to the campus partly because of opportunities to address climate warming, CU-Boulder’s chief sustainability officer Heidi VanGenderen said.
Students increasingly use e-bikes and e-scooters as alternatives to driving, VanGenderen said. They recently persuaded officials to buy four electric shuttle buses and helped write a new campus energy plan requiring increased conservation.
At Fort Lewis College in Durango, students have shifted from street protests to attending city council meetings where they press leaders to take climate action, said Kathleen Hilimire, a professor in the school’s environment and sustainability department. Students recently launched an “e-bike library” where they can check out e-bikes for a semester, and they collect food waste from dining halls for compost in campus gardens.
Being at the summit gives a glimpse of how change can happen, said CSU graduate student Jacob Genuise, 22, who has been studying international climate agreements and holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science.
“It can be really hard to be optimistic. There are days when we look at the scientific reports and we’re like: ‘Uh, how are we going to fix this?’ ” Genuise said. “But a lot of us are channeling that into action. It’s the best way for us to deal with our concerns about climate change.”
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