Learning that ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and human-caused, inspired recent Northland College graduate Anya Janssen ’16 and senior Michaela Fisher to educate their peers in ways to be the solution, not simply the cause, to climate change.

After meeting at the Citizen Climate Lobby in Washington DC this summer, and again at the Guiding for Tomorrow (G-WOW) training, Fisher and Janssen developed and hosted Northland College’s first-ever student-initiated climate change conference October 15-16 at Forest Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin.

The conference, “Changing Climate, Changing Culture,” encouraged students to look at climate change through both a scientific and a cultural lens in order to effect change.

Slideshow of the Weekend (click on the arrow below)

Student Leadership

“Attending the G-WOW training this past summer was truly life-changing,” Janssen said. “Before the training I didn’t understand how to marry the scientific research on climate change, to cultural significance.”

Fisher and Janssen believe that involving culture is imperative when discussing climate change, because it enables people to realize the impacts on their lifeways, hobbies, and sources of income.

“Climate change is a global problem with local impacts. Getting people to understand those impacts and how those will change their ways of life is, in my opinion, the key to mobilizing people on climate change,” Fisher said.

Fisher and Janssen took an active role in all aspects of the weekend—from organizing to speaking. “Anya and Michaela had a goal to share their climate change training with Northland students,” said Stacy Craig, coordinator of applied learning at Northland College. “Anya is trained in the social sciences and Michaela in the environmental sciences, and they make a great team.”

Craig said she helped facilitate the logistics but because of Janssen and Fisher’s internship, research, and training experiences, they had the knowledge and skills to lead the workshop. “This was capstone level work and they did it as volunteers because they believe it’s time to take action on climate change,” she said.

In addition to their own presentations, Janssen and Fisher invited four of their own role models to speak.

University of Wisconsin-Extension Environmental Outreach State Specialist Cathy Techtman discussed the G-WOW curriculum applications, and Chapter President of the Chequamegon Citizen’s Climate Lobby Bill Bussey provided attendees with plans for effective lobbying. Jason Maloney, site director for the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center and Forest Lodge, led a tour and introduction to Forest Lodge.

Joe Rose, Bad River tribal elder and former Northland College professor, provided the Ojibwe history of northern Wisconsin and their belief that now is the time when a group of people from all corners of the world will come together to protect the earth. “You are those people,” Rose concluded as he looked around at the room of students.

“Each and every speaker engaged the group with expressive sincerity and inspiring passion,” Janssen said. “Dialogue among the group drew bridges between disciplines as an array of perceptions on climate change emerged.”

Empowering Students

Before attending the Citizen’s Climate Lobby in Washington DC, Fisher said she didn’t realize she could make a difference as a student, which is the primary message she hoped to share with her peers this past weekend.

“Citizens Climate Lobby has helped me see that there is so much I can be doing right now to make my voice heard,” Fisher explained. “Citizens Climate Lobby doesn’t necessarily give you a voice in our government—for that is an inherent right we all have—but they certainly work to amplify your voice in the best possible way so your efforts can be most effective.”

In addition to the conference, Fisher plans to use her post as Northland College Student Association vice president to expose as many students as possible to the benefits of becoming involved with the Citizens Climate Lobby. Ideally, Fisher would like to see three-to-five Northland College students active in the local chapter.

“This weekend we initiated the steps to really achieve these goals by hosting a workshop where culture informed the narrative of climate change to inspire an audience of millennials,” Janssen said.

Craig helped facilitate the conference which she described as “peer leadership, peer sharing, peer teaching at its best.”

“We’re empowering our students to take leadership roles on these topics because we have to start developing leaders now for climate change,” Craig said.  “We need educators from a generation that didn’t create the problems as we move forward into a new paradigm.”

Many student attendees said they felt comfortable sharing their own knowledge related to climate change garnered from personal experience and Northland College courses.

“This conference was a great opportunity for us as Northland students to learn from each other. Our experiences are vastly different and we can bring so many alternative perspectives to the table as we talk about climate change,” Fisher said.

Northland College senior Sarah Szymaniak said Fisher’s presentation on climate change was “the most upbeat and entertaining presentation on climate change” she has ever seen.

Forest Lodge as a Backdrop

Holding the conference at Forest Lodge, allowed organizers to host hands-on workshops that further enforced the importance of the topics they discussed. Craig explained that this was made possible through Northland College’s partnership with the US Forest Service.

The property was the former summer home of the Burke family and given to the Forest Service by the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota with the stipulation that it would be used as an ecological campus to develop environmental awareness and leadership. Northland College develops and delivers the environmental programming for Forest Lodge. This past summer was the first time the buildings were renovated and available for participants

“Forest Lodge was such an awesome location for this workshop. I am so pleased that we are the first Northland College student workshop to get to stay at Forest Lodge. It is my hope this sets a precedent for the kinds of programs that will be held at Forest Lodge in the future,” Fisher said.

Looking Forward

Next year, organizers hope the retreat will be offered as a one-credit course for current Northland College students. Craig said she is currently working to make this a reality, using this year’s pilot as the model. If approved, next year’s conference will likely feature more speakers, a water activity on Lake Namekagon, and a few hours of student volunteer service at Forest Lodge to aid in the USFS restoration project currently underway.

“At Northland College, each student will be exposed to an environmental ethic that is grounded in all disciplines,” Janssen said. “But with additional offerings of climate change workshops such as ours, I believe students will gain a wholesome introduction to the complexities of our environments—social, cultural, natural—as viewed under one lens.”

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