GV climate change summit features local experts, calls for change


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Katherine Rauhut, Staff Writer

Coinciding with Global Climate Change Week, Grand Valley State University’s Geography and Sustainable Planning Department and Office for Sustainable Practices hosted a Climate Change Education Solutions Summit (CCESS) from Oct. 11-13.

By organizing the event, CCESS Planning Committee Chair, Dr. Elena Lioubimtseva, said she hoped to achieve “GVSU leadership in climate change education, community collaboration and (the formation of) diverse and inclusive coalitions united by their passion to overcome the global climate crisis.”

In addition to being the committee chair, Lioubimtseva is a professor of geography and sustainable planning at GVSU.

“​​Such conversations open opportunities to learn, engage in the community, connect with others and become active citizens,” Lioubimtseva said.

The event included multiple Zoom webinars featuring various eminent speakers from Michigan. These speakers, ranging from GVSU professors to leaders of the Grand Rapids Citizens Climate Lobby Chapter, discussed the ever-growing topic of global climate change.

One of the Zoom webinars titled “Citizens Climate Lobby work in West Michigan” featured Jan Strait, a chapter leader of the Grand Rapids Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), Peter Boogaart, a founding member of the Holland Area CCL chapter and Dr. Dennis Icabone, a retired professor and a fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry.

During this roundtable discussion, Strait, Boogaart and Icabone talked about the work of the CCL in West Michigan and how students at GVSU can get involved.

“One person can be a multiplier,” Strait said. “Now is the time to vote, we cannot hesitate. Research our candidates, research their opinions on climate change, have the conversation. It’s a continual message from all of us to keep having the conversation. Voting is climate action.”

Echoing Strait’s view, Boogaart said work must be done to motivate key portions of the electorate to enact further change.

“We need to bring people to the point where they believe their voice counts and where they want to speak out,” Boogaart said. “A study from the University of Pennsylvania asked, ‘How many people does it take to change the public opinion on a topic?’ They found that it’s 25%. We can find that 25%, but the challenge is giving that 25% a voice.”

For the upcoming election on Nov. 8, CCL encourages students to make informed votes for candidates who they believe support climate change action. Another way for students to get involved, they mentioned, is to consider starting a CCL chapter at GVSU.

“There are campus chapters across the country,” Strait said. “There’s one at the University of Michigan, and I think one at Michigan State University.”

Along with discussions and presentations, the CCESS showcased the work of GVSU film and video student Kristin Davis, GVSU environmental policies student and founding CCESS committee member Leah Anderson and Elena Lioubimtseva on their documentary Climate Sisu, which features climate stories from northern Michigan.

“In Climate Sisu, we really wanted to focus on solutions and show you optimistic stories from northern Michigan areas,” Lioubimtseva said.

Davis, not having a detailed background in climate change studies, mentioned how she learned a lot about this topic through creating the documentary.

“I think the most surprising thing I (learned) is the sustainability and resilience aspect to it,” Davis said. “I was with the crowd of people who was being fed all the ‘doom-and-gloom’ stuff. But ever since being a part of this and talking more with Elena and Leah and everybody else, they shared so much about what we are doing to give back to the Earth and have a more sustainable future.”

A main theme underlined in the CCESS sessions was optimism. Strait said that media today often predicts a pessimistic and catastrophic future for the Earth, and often glosses over the work that is being done to save the planet.

“It appears that things are at a point where we’re not going to get anything done,” Strait said. “That’s not the case. So much happens behind the scenes the general public does not see. Many of the politicians may not make public comments, but I’m hopeful that there will be progress on legislation.”

The speakers of the CCESS aim to bring an optimistic view on climate change to inspire people to act rather than discourage them. By hosting events like the annual summit, environmentalists are looking to shift the public attitude.