Written by: Sarah Ross, SOU’s Student Zero Waste Coordinator.
Scooting back my desk chair, I lift my legs to stand upright. The hourly jumping jack routines in-between Zoom sessions in my crowded dorm room are illuminated by my screen that never seems to go dark lately. I rub my eyes, after looking at the screen all day and return to my chair. I take a deep breath as I click the “Launch” Zoom button.
Immediately, I am transported into a digital world of warm, welcoming smiles. The Southern Oregon Climate Act Now (SOCAN) Master Climate Protector Course convened for three hours every Monday night for ten weeks. I feel a sense of togetherness while the members of the course express their enthusiasm and ideas for change and I instantly know I’m in the right place.
Their smiles remind me that we are together on this climate change issue but I still prepare for all the other feelings that come up when regarding such a polarizing issue like this one. Mainly the sadness and hopefulness of all the work left to accomplish.
The effects of climate change are becoming more evident every day. From changing weather patterns and reduced water availability to deforestation and melting ice caps — examples are all around us. In Southern Oregon, we are experiencing increased wildfires, hotter temperatures, and water shortages. Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities are propelling climate change and increasing issues yet to arise. According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, “Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century and is likely to surpass 3 degrees Celsius this century — with some areas of the world expected to warm even more.” We can do so much to build our resilience to the changing climate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help mitigate further changes.
As a sophomore in the Environmental Science and Policy major at Southern Oregon University, I dove headfirst into these deeply rooted issues. Originally a Colorado native, I picked Ashland and SOU for the alluring mountains, rivers, and outdoor education opportunities. Many local residents enjoy the Rogue Valley for similar reasons and hope to protect the beautiful surroundings as well.
Once I understood the full scope of the environmental challenges we face, they became all-consuming and impossible to turn my back against. Often my ambition overwhelms me with endless room for creativity to reduce my individual footprint. However heavy these challenges may seem, weight is at least off my shoulders just knowing this is the right path for me.
Even more reassurance that I’m on the right path comes through my PEAK job as the Student Zero-Waste Coordinator on campus. Working with Becs Walker, SOU’s Sustainability and Recycling Manager, I am inspired by her passion and wealth of knowledge. I began as SOU’s Student Zero-Waste Coordinator in January 2020, and my work includes developing campus infrastructure and waste education to improve overall recycling and diversion rates on campus. My momentum between my job and university studies started to fall into place and SOCAN’s course boosted me on my quest.
What is Southern Oregon Climate Act Now (SOCAN)?
Southern Oregon Climate Act Now is a non-profit organization created by Ashland residents who passionately tackle reducing the impacts of global warming through education and action. This local organization is an immense resource within the Rogue Valley. The team’s website and members link many resources for onlookers on climate science, organizations to connect with, and ideas and actions to start reducing your carbon footprint today! The Master Climate Protector course is offered once a year through SOCAN and integrates both trainings on climate science and a service component. The 20-hour service component is designed for graduates to further demonstrate their knowledge and promote action through community engagement, conversation, or writing letters to political officials.
How did you find out about SOCAN?
The course was advertised across the Rogue Valley and my manager, Becs Walker asked if I would be interested. She did say “I understand if this adds too much zoom to an already full zoom calendar!” Through my PEAK job, Becs had sparked the idea of developing experience and working in the community and this felt like it would support this.
What did this course cover and how has this course helped you better understand Climate Change?
After being an online student for about a year now, I can easily say this was a very well-structured class. There were opportunities for conversation, reflection, togetherness, scientific data, jokes, and real-life scenarios. Multiple group discussions were helpful to see others’ perspectives and stimulate ideas on collective and individual actions.
The course condensed the facts of our climate crisis we face. In our ten sessions, we explored basic science, recognizing alternative explanations to climate change, energy and construction, weather and water, transportation, terrestrial systems, agriculture, human health, and individual and collective actions. Not only were the resources well-thought-out and credible, but they also provided relevancy to the Rogue Valley.
How did you feel during the course?
It was interesting to see how the course played out. About half the course covered the hard realities around climate change, then around halfway through, the conversations shifted to taking actions and providing solutions to these tricky issues. We were asked to write down after each night how we felt, and some nights I felt overwhelmed and sad, and other nights I felt motivated and eager.
What are your 3 main takeaways from the course?
How has it helped you in thinking about the SOU’s role in helping to tackle climate change? Or What do you think SOU can do to tackle climate change?
Wherever there is a chance for community, there is a chance for change. Community within SOU, SOCAN, and Ashland. How we come together as a town and as a University, as one, to connect to these crises that are happening now will help us to make the changes we need. SOU, like any institution, has to set the example for its students, staff, and faculty, and surrounding community to instill habits and educate for change. SOU has to be ever-adapting to what lays ahead, however, we have a great start to our Sustainable practices and curriculum on campus.
After ten weeks and 30 hours of digesting climate change effects, the time has now come to graduate as a Master Climate Protector. Our graduation ceremony concluded with the whole class stating their actions they want to act on NOW. The inspiring words of others filled my dorm room, and with the lights turned off (to save energy) they brightened up my room with their ideas.
To help build resilience to the changing climate and reduce your carbon impact, here are a few ideas you can tackle today! Consider alternative transportation as the weather warms up, like biking, walking, or safely carpooling. Reduce your consumption by reusing, upcycling, thrifting, refusing, or buying local. Try eating a low carbon diet, by participating in Meatless Mondays, or eating more of a plant-based diet. Reconsider how often you water your lawn and plant plants that require less water. Additionally, during the recovering stages of this pandemic, we can rethink and reconsider our old habits. Most importantly, get out and join the community conversation, talk to political officials, and take action!
This complex topic doesn’t stop after SOCAN for me. I cannot turn my head from the inconvenient truths that are arising as I write this; surely you feel the same as you read along. I plan to continue my work as the Zero-Waste Coordinator, to keep having difficult conversations, and to further expand into community engagement. The complex relationship with these climate ideas will continue to grow and develop in my head. Reminding my ambition to take a breath, since I am just one person and I cannot do it alone, helps me be present while looking forward to collective changes. I am grateful I had the opportunity to learn through SOCAN and enjoyed working alongside people who were illuminated by these topics from their own pockets of the internet.
Resources for Climate Action in the Community: