College Park Scholars’ Panel of Local, State Leaders Echoes Message of First Year Book
By Mayu Mishina
Photo by Stocksy; illustrations by Shutterstock
Hundred-year floods occurring every few years. Record-breaking heatwaves buckling roads and withering harvests. Prolonged drought causing frequent wildfires.
These days, it’s not hard to find dramatic examples of weather-driven disasters made worse by climate change. It’s also too easy to feel defeated by the magnitude of the problem.
The University of Maryland’s 2022-23 First Year Book, “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis,” offers hope and a sense of urgency as the antidote. The collection of poetry, essays and art by women inspired last night’s College Park Scholars event, “All We Can Save—in Maryland,” bringing together a panel of city, Prince George’s County and state leaders to talk about how they’re taking action on climate change and how students can get involved.
“One of the things I really appreciate about the book is that it takes on one of these huge, seemingly impossible problems and offers an action-oriented, solution-oriented approach,” said Scholars Executive Director Marilee Lindemann. “My hope is that this conversation will spark other conversations about small things we can each do individually.”
Moderated by Tim Knight, director of Scholars’ Environment, Technology and Economy program, the panel offered concrete ideas for students who want to join the fight against climate change:
1. Break up with beef. A devotee of Taco Tuesdays? Add to the alliteration with Meatless Mondays. “Eat less meat, especially beef,” said Mark Stewart, climate change program manager for the Maryland Department of the Environment, who previously served 14 years as the University of Maryland’s sustainability manager. UMD is doing its share at the campus level, as the world’s first university to join the Cool Food Pledge, where institutions commit to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of the food they serve.
2. Compost. “Our food system in the U.S. is as backward and destructive as it could be in terms of environmental and health impacts,” said Maryland Del. Lorig Charkoudian of Montgomery County, who supports building sustainable, local food systems and reducing food waste through composting. (UMD features an extensive array of compost bins, including in 32 campus residence halls.)
3. Embrace electric. With the passage this year of the Climate Solutions Now Act, Maryland has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2031. To achieve it, Stewart said, “We need just about every Marylander to make their next car choice an electric vehicle.” Though some fine print is involved, the federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides a tax credit of up to $7,500 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle. Stewart added the state of Maryland will offer its own incentives next summer.
4. But also, drive less. Consider biking or walking to get places, said College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, who serves on the regional transportation planning board for the D.C. metropolitan area. “We need all possible solutions on the table. We can’t just be focused on electric vehicles, but broader transportation solutions, including reducing vehicle miles traveled,” he said.
5. Consider a climate angle in your career. Between billions in federal climate funding going to state agencies and consulting firms getting in on the action, climate work offers career opportunities. “Whatever your career will be, understand that climate action can be integrated into it in some way, shape or form,” said Dawn Hawkins-Nixon, associate director of Prince George’s County Department of the Environment. “If you’re an architecture major, how will you design buildings that will be protective or functional as our climate begins to change? If you’re in journalism, how will you start getting that message out on what people can do to take appropriate action to prepare for a climate resilient future?”
6. Vote. While individual choices—of what you eat, how you get places and more—are important, Charkoudian acknowledged that policy decisions tend to have the greatest reach. Who you elect, therefore, matters—especially locally. “A lot of the climate work over the last few decades has happened at the state or local level,” she said.
7. Phone a friend. So does contacting your elected representative even make a difference? Yes, say the panelists. Charkoudian encourages those who live in more climate-friendly districts to not just reach out to their reps, but also encourage friends in less politically active districts to do the same. In districts where constituents are less likely to contact their lawmakers, “getting a couple of emails on a bill could really sway the representative,” she said. As Wojahn observed about the city of College Park: “We don’t hear a lot from students, so when we do hear from them, it’s usually a notable occasion. Nothing has quite as much of an impact as an email that you’ve thought about and put some research into the issue and wanted to weigh in on.”
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