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City-wide climate discussion

Students from 10 local colleges and universities gathered at Saturday’s “Climate Change and the Campus” event, presented by the Program for Deliberative Democracy. Attendees discussed climate change in small, moderated groups before directing questions to a panel of experts. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor) Students from 10 local colleges and universities gathered at Saturday’s “Climate Change and the Campus” event, presented by the Program for Deliberative Democracy. Attendees discussed climate change in small, moderated groups before directing questions to a panel of experts. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor)

Students from several local universities congregated in Wiegand Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon to participate in Carnegie Mellon’s Program for Deliberative Democracy’s (PDD) campus conversation, titled “Climate Change and the Campus.”

Carnegie Mellon philosophy professor and PDD Director Robert Cavalier opened the event with enthusiasm.

“There is a general consensus in the scientific community that climate change is an issue that is occurring at the present moment, and a subject that can be approached rigorously, which made it a topic considered as good practice for deliberative democracy among students,” he said. “This stands in contrast with a typical town hall meeting, which is neither interactive nor deliberative. It provides students with the opportunity to be actively involved in the discussion and to become informed about the topic while participating in a structured conversation.”

The opinions of such informed individuals, he said, are valuable to policymakers trying to make relevant and constructive changes.

Deliberative democracy through campus conversation — defined by the PDD’s website as “the nation’s first systematic use of deliberative polling techniques at the college and university level” — enables students to formulate opinions after they are more educated about a particular subject.

Another thing that made this campus conversation unique, Cavalier said, is that “Climate Change and the Campus” was a collaborative, city-wide event that included 10 schools in the city of Pittsburgh. Cavalier said that such round-table conferences are able to offer students insight from those who are of different disciplines and thus spur them to be more engaged in doing their part for the environment.

Students were randomly assigned to tables with moderators to keep the ball rolling as they discussed climate change. Many of the participants claimed to know very little about climate change, and attended because it was required for a class.

However, for some, such as first-year computer science major Steven Ong, global warming has always been a subject of interest.

“I would like to hear what others have to say and get a firm ground on whether climate change is a problem, and how we as students can tackle it,” he said.

While participants did not consider themselves well-versed with climate change, the round-table deliberations showed that many are concerned about global warming and its toll on the environment.

Junior global studies major Christian Manoli, who remarked on the importance of reducing energy usage, said, “We have really smart people — like geniuses — on this campus. I’m sure they could invent something.”

The second half of the event welcomed a panel comprised of Brinda Thomas, who works with the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making at Carnegie Mellon; Lisa Coeffe, a Pittsburgh City Forester; Stan Kabala, associate director for the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University; Erika Ninos, environmental program coordinator for the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research at Carnegie Mellon; and Debra Killmeyer, the program director of Renewable Energy Initiatives.

These panel members were more educators than debaters; their primary job was to answer students’ questions.

Students were curious about the initiatives the Pittsburgh community is taking to combat global warming, and the steps that they could take to do so. They wanted to know what a “green” career is, and how to advocate a “green” economy. Coming from different backgrounds, the panelists provided a broad range of perspectives on the issues.

Kabala said, “You got to remember that not all the fossils are in the fuel,” illustrating that everyone has a part to play in the matter of climate change.