Campus Divided over Global Climate Strike


Photo by Debra Born.

Debra Born, News Editor

Last Friday’s Global Climate Strike, an emerging demonstration to end global warming, started a wave of protests against climate policies in 150 countries. Utica College has been touched by the strike from students on both sides of the environmental issue. 

The protests, consisting mainly of young people holding signs and declaring a right to a better climate, were led by Greta Thunberg in New York City. Thunberg is a 16-year-old environmental activist who started a school strike in front of the Swedish parliament in August 2018 to demand climate action. 

Whether Thunberg is a teen who felt compelled to tell the United Nations that she would “never forgive” them for not being more environmentally-active or a child-puppet being used by liberal movements, her actions have sparked debates and divided environmental groups around the globe, and UC is not immune. 

Down the road from UC, a climate strike was organized by students at Hamilton College, and the fervor for more environmental regulationation has spread.

“The Global Climate Strike […] is relevant to UC because the students share these fears and passions and worry those are falling on deaf ears,” said Peter Gaughan, a dual-major junior in Political Science and Government and Geological and Earth Sciences at UC.

Gaughan is starting an environmental organization called Utica College Outdoors Club. The club will give the UC community connections to on and off-campus events and opportunities to enjoy nature and promote environmental awareness.

“The club will create events and opportunities to educate the community and advocate for more eco-friendliness,” he said. “This club will give students an avenue to lobby the administration and larger community to make a more serious commitment to environmentalism.”

If the Global Climate Strike isn’t rocking the world at UC with on-campus protests yet, debates about whether the college should be more involved and whether global warming exists just might as students choose sides and take action.

“I think they’re just trying to make people more aware of everything that’s happening,” said Deanna Difabio, first-year grad student in the Occupational Therapy major. “Some people don’t really think it’s a big deal.”

Other students think global warming is a dangerous reality that needs to be addressed. 

“I definitely think it’s [global warming] happening, just because even here the weather is so unpredictable and I feel like that is happening a lot around the world,” Difabio said. 

Many students connected to the emerging student organization called “Utica College Outdoors Club,” and privately supported and participated in the strikes. Students discussed whether the campus should take an activist stance and join the protests as a college. 

“I feel like it would be nice to have an event or something on campus to get a feel for how everyone’s feeling about it,” Difabio said.

Other students are planning to cut to the chase and start a student-led protest at Utica College.

“We hope in the future to more formally organize events similar to that Climate Strike to bring environmental pressure to the forefront of our community and its decision makers,” Gaughan said.

Adam Schoonmaker, Professor of Geology and Associate Dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics division at UC is all for the strike. 

“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think the more attention we give to this, the more it will benefit us. Global warming is a real problem.”

Schoonmaker cited rising sea levels causing problems such as killing coral reefs which he termed the “rainforests of the sea-world,” and storms around the world becoming more intense.

“We’re already seeing it [global warming] impacting us today,” Schoonmaker said. “We are not in debate about global warming,” he said.

Schoonmaker is on the board of directors for the nature center and said UC could be more environmentally active.

“I think UC could do better,” he said. “It has to start with awareness. People aren’t going to take a step unless they know what is going on.”

Schoonmaker said that geology instructors try to raise awareness in the classroom, but that education should be a “multi-pronged” effort. 

However, not everyone at UC agrees that global warming is a reality or that protests are important.

“I’d probably say they are a little overkill,” said Sean Doran, cybersecurity senior. “I think that people are reacting a little too much – they’re freaking out a little too much. Especially if they are letting kids skip school to protest.” 

Doran said he does not believe in global warming.

“Throughout history, the weather always changes,” he said. “I think it’s just a little hard to say it’s climate change when history shows that climate change always happens but we bounce back.”

Robert Cross, Director of Environmental Health and Conservation, ensures that the college adheres to EPA, Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and NYS environmental regulations.

Cross recycles over two miles of the college’s used fluorescent light bulbs. He also recycles used paint, oil, laboratory waste, batteries and more. 

“Utica College’s conservation office is up to par with regulations and is doing the best they can to protect the environment,” Cross said. “We have a good recycling program; we recycle several tons of electronic waste every year. We encourage that, and we have bins in the residence halls for electronic waste.”

Cross said he doesn’t “necessarily” believe in global warming. 

“Everything goes in cycles; the climate goes in cycles,” he said. “We may just be in a warming cycle. I think that all the fossil fuels are having something to do with it but whether it’s a problem right now may not be true. You can’t believe what you hear.”

Whether or not they believe in global warming, students at UC are actively making changes to improve the environment. 

Francesca Milazzo, spring 2019 graduate and current adjunct professor, won a $500 grant during her senior year from the Campus Theme Committee Research to purchase recycling boxes for vinyl lab gloves. The conservation office is spearheading the effort by collecting the gloves, ordering the boxes, and shipping the materials to to ensure that the rubber is re-used rather than ending up in a landfill.

UC also encourages students to develop a concern for the environment and to practice good recycling habits. Students including Difabio, Doran and others said they recycle and try to avoid buying plastic, disposable items.

The Global Climate Strikes have raised awareness of an environmental issue that not everyone on campus agrees exists. It is unclear how Utica College’s participation in future climate change protests as a united student group will play out, but many of UC’s students are ready to take on that challenge.