Nov 042009
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

2009’s election week is winding down. From the perspective of the Green University, last year’s elections brought hope of new environmental direction.

But the fluctuating economy and a docket full of stimulus to banks and car companies seem to have left Colorado with more budget cuts leaving me to wonder — what have we done for the Green cause, and should we do more?

I’m not usually one to point fingers, so I’ll start by examining my own life. I recycle most of the paper I use and do my best to remember to bring my own bags to the grocery store. But, you know, I still haven’t gone out and measured my personal carbon foot-print — I’m pretty sure it’s grown to a new high. Doom-and-gloom, right?

This comes on the heels of a conversation with my good friend Stacey, an ecology Ph.D. candidate at Utah State University who has been harassing me about the seemingly lack of adventure in my life as of late: “Dude, what happened to all your articles documenting your travels?”

I had another chat with a colleague who is heading to Antarctica next week. Lauren is an incredibly high-energy New York gal who found her “inner-tree hugger” after spending a summer hiking in Estes Park.

“How can we get unbiased information that people can understand about climate change and the environment, even just on the level of the importance of teaching kids to turn off the lights?” Lauren asked.

We talked about ideas from the numerous conferences and each have expended untold amounts of carbon dioxide in order to “save the planet.” Lauren mentioned a friend who had done calculations and thinks we should incorporate easier visualizations of carbon expenditures, like the number of basketball courts a ton of carbon fills.

“I think that’s a nice idea, very visual.”

But what can we really bring to people — the climate change skeptics and the choir we already preach to — toward bridging the consensus on the urgency of the environment, the Copenhagen summit and the Madrid Protocol?

I think the strongest message comes from bringing multiple real stories and problems presented by different perspectives, and then trust people to draw their own conclusions. To this end, over the past eight months, I’ve found myself most moved by the plight of refugees, and more directly, climate refugees, who are people displaced by environmental events.

As parts of the Gulf Coast continue to dig themselves out from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we in the United States can certainly recognize the urgent challenges facing environmentally displaced people. Although, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods are events that have occurred, according to estimates from the United Nations, by this time next year there may be more than 50 million climate refugees.

This is further highlighted by Red Cross research showing there are now more people displaced by environmental disasters than by war. The Brookings Institute even has a pilot version of a Field Manual for protecting human rights in natural disasters.

Numbers like these make me think about what’s being done at CSU. An answer came when CSU CSMATE researcher Andrew Warnock sent me a message that the camera he sent with me to Antarctica in the spring had just come back from Greenland with some great visual footage.

He also sent a link to the screening of “Climate Refugees,” which is a movie put together by some of our own at CSU and being pre-screened for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. CSU is the only university test-screening the movie, which will be followed by a panel discussion.

This announcement came to me in answering my friend Stacey’s question and preparing for my next big trip. “Stacey, I’m going to New Zealand in February to study Environmental Refugee Law . so far as adventure — what if I live out of a refugee tent while I’m there, maybe take my media-journalism friend Samantha and raise some awareness and money for an NGO (non-profit environmental organization)?” I think that sounds like a plan.

Phoenix Mourning-Star is a graduate student in environmental and radiological health sciences. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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