By Brian G. Henning, Ph.D.
The last third of the 20th century witnessed a shift in Earth-human relations. The human species now threatens Earth’s capacity to sustain life as we know it. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, avoiding the most devastating effects of climate change will “require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transportation and buildings), and industrial systems” (2018 “Special Report on 1.5 degrees Celsius”).
Global warming is accelerating, causing rising coast lines; larger, more erratic storms; and longer, more devastating wildfires. The poorest, most vulnerable people in our human family have the fewest resources with which to respond, yet they will be the most severely impacted. Pope Francis has rightly called this what it is, a “climate emergency.”
We here at Gonzaga University have been working hard to do our part to reduce the impact of our physical operations by improving efficiency, reducing waste and developing a climate action plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. We are on track to achieve this important goal. As important as these sustainability efforts are, we realize that much more is required. The threat of climate change requires that we also use our academic mission to help prepare our students and our community for the difficult future that we are creating. That is why on Earth Day we launched the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment.
It is my honor to serve as the founding director of the Gonzaga Climate Center, whose mission is to provide resources and opportunities to meet the unprecedented challenges facing humanity and the wider natural environment in the 21st century. Informed by an abiding commitment to a just society and care for the planet, the Gonzaga Climate Center serves Gonzaga University and broader regional communities by promoting innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship, teaching, consulting, and capacity building on the climate, society and the environment.
At this pivotal moment in human history, all fields of human inquiry are called upon to collaborate in what the late eminent cultural historian Thomas Berry called the “Great Work” of our era: to transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period of integral Earth-human relations. The Jesuit commitment to justice adds the insistence that care for our common home be joined with environmental justice for the poor and the vulnerable.
As part of a Jesuit, Catholic, Humanistic institution of higher learning, the Gonzaga Climate Center is a central expression of our mission to foster “global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for the planet.”
The social and ecological challenges confronting us today require that we direct the scholarly and teaching expertise of our faculty and the passion and vision of our students to be of even greater service to our Inland Northwest community.
Through this new Center, Gonzaga seeks to be a regional leader in at least three ways:
• First, by educating students to live and lead in an era of climate disruption;
• Second, by training teachers and faculty at every level to thoughtfully incorporate climate literacy and integral ecology into their classrooms, and;
• Third, as a resource, offering expertise and assistance to help municipal, tribal and corporate entities to understand and respond to the challenges of climate change.
This work is already underway. This academic year, through the Center’s Climate Literacy Project and in partnership with Spokane Public Schools and our Educational Service District, we have worked with over 100 secondary science teachers, helping them explore ways to motivate their students to better understand and respond to the challenges created by a changing climate.
To successfully confront the climate crisis, we all must come together to realize a future in which all forms of life can flourish. For information about the center and how you can stay involved, visit gonzaga.edu/ClimateCenter, contact ClimateCenter@gonzaga.edu, or follow us @GonzagaClimate. In particular, we hope you join us for our inaugural lecture series this fall, which you can find at gonzaga.edu/ClimateCenterEvents. Together, we can provide resources and opportunities to students, faculty and community members across the inland northwest. Join us as we seek to learn and lead in this difficult age of climate change.
Brian G. Henning, Ph.D., is the inaugural director of Gonzaga University’s Center for Climate, Society and the Environment. He is a professor of philosophy and of environmental studies.
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