Monday, April 6, 2009

Ice Bridge Holding Antarctic Shelf in Place Shatters

Like countless others I've developed the habit of reading the newspaper (the New York Times) online. I enjoy the instantaneity of the news, the ability to send relevant stories to peers and colleagues, and as a sports fan I like having morning access to the west coast scores. Yet when I hold the print edition of The Times in my hands I have a more thorough and enjoyable reading experience. I find that I tend to study the visceral newspaper and scan the virtual newspaper.

Every few weeks I'll indulge myself and pick up the Sunday Times, especially when I know that I'll have the time and patience to actually read it. Yesterday it was cool and cloudy, I had a rare free day, so I bought the paper. I slowly flipped through the front section and read with interest two quarter column stories on page 9, one about Obama's plan to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba, and a second on how violence is silencing the voices of Sri Lankan journalists. I was about to turn the page when I noticed an almost imperceptible "two inch" story sandwiched between two quarter page ads, "Nordstrom Fits America" and CIRCA Jewelry's "We're Here to Help."

I'll reproduce the story in full:

Ice Bridge Holding Antarctic Shelf in Place Shatters

An ice bridge holding a vast Antarctic ice shelf in place has shattered and may herald a wider collapse caused by global warming, a scientist said Saturday.
"It's amazing how the ice has ruptured," said David Vaughan, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey. "Two days ago it was intact," he said, referring to a satellite image of the Wilkins ice shelf.
The satellite picture, by the European Space Agency, showed that a strip of ice about 25 miles long that is believed to pin the ice shelf in place had snapped.
The loss if the ice bridge could mean a wider breakup of the ice shelf, which is about the size of Connecticut.

Tucked into the smallest conceivable space in arguably one of the world's great newspapers is a story to dwarf them all, a news item of extraordinary planetary significance. It's buried on the bottom of the page in the southern corner, like the Antipodes themselves, thousands of miles away, at the "bottom" of the earth, observed by a few scientists monitoring satellite photos.

Why, I wonder, isn't this a front page banner headline? Why is there instead (in the same edition) a front page story about the efforts of Scarsdale, New York middle schools to help adolescents learn how to empathize more and gossip less (yes, yes, I know that's important!)? Why has our coverage of extraordinary biospheric events been relegated to the smallest corner of the newspaper? It feels like this story (perhaps inadvertently) has been swept under the rug.

I will save you from what would only be a trite analysis of why this is so, and spare you, too, my fatalistic musings. Nor do I wish to minimize the awakening public awareness around climate change, or the emerging student-activism energy regarding sustainability and climate action.

However, this story is a daily reminder (buried in a daily newspaper) that our climate actions are still not close to being urgent enough, and we must do all that we can to encourage living and learning habits and practices that keep climate action at the forefront of our concerns.

As a college president, I try to keep an active voice with the ACUPCC (American College and University President's Climate Commitment). and any other organization that I belong to or work with. Indeed, I serve as a college president for one primary reason—to exercise as much influence as I can to promote sustainable solutions to deal with climate destabilization and the loss of biodiversity.

The ACUPCC is of particular note. Why? Because it represents over one third of all the nation's college presidents who are making a campus-wide commitment to reduce their carbon footprint. Multiply this by all of the students who attend those colleges and you can have a major impact. At the forthcoming ACUPCC summit (this August in Chicago) working groups will coordinate efforts on a range of campus initiatives. Among the most crucial will be curricular efforts. In partnership with AASHE (The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) and CGIU (Clinton Global Initiative University), we'll be figuring out ways to have maximum impact on the nation's curriculum.

How do we insure that climate awareness and sustainable solutions are infused in multiple educational settings—intrinsic to freshman learning experiences, deeply incorporated into any and all majors, and the basis for innovative new majors that will prepare a new generation of sustainability leadership and a green work force?

Stories such as the ice bridge shattering may not be front page news in the Sunday Times, but it's our responsibility to move them to the frontpage of a comprehensive higher education curriculum effort.

For more on the organizations cited in this post (ACUPCC, AASHE, CGIU), see the links column on the right.