By Katelyn Rousch
After nearly a full year of social distancing and masking up to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it can feel like life has been put on hold. Unfortunately, issues like climate change lack a pause button and demand ongoing efforts.
As a climate scientist, Sustainable Administration Hub coordinator Dr. Ryan Fogt knows this more than anyone. He has spent time coming up with virtual ways for students, faculty and staff to remain active through the Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors program.
“Normally in a non-COVID environment… it’s a lot of hands-on education outreach and action events,” he says. “Now we are doing a lot of things virtually.”
The Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors program was developed by Fogt through the Office of Sustainability in spring 2019. Members promote climate literacy and advance sustainability on and off campus. In the past, the Ambassadors have worked independently, with other groups like Habitat for Humanity and in coordination with area schools. Most of these events were in-person, depending on members to share their knowledge and experience with other students and community members. Since the pandemic, the Ambassadors have had to get creative with their outreach.
“I think the greatest thing is our podcast series. I love them, they are so educational, they’re so diverse because they are produced by students,” Fogt says. “It gets people to use their passion, whatever they’re excited about, to talk about and share with the world. That’s been really, really fun.”
The podcast series launched last fall. Anyone interested can find the podcasts on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Students have been producing the educational podcasts weekly, diving into everything from composting pumpkins to sustainable purchasing to reclaiming construction waste, all based on the monthly theme from the Office of Sustainability.
Improved communication infrastructure in schools and businesses in southeast Ohio has made it easier to arrange educational programming that “promote[s] knowledge about climate change, its impacts and certainly what you can do about it,” Fogt says.
“[We are] trying in some ways to take advantage of the situation rather than being limited by it because COVID does mean we can’t necessarily do a lot of things in person, but it does expand our opportunities for outreach because we are becoming a lot more connected digitally than ever before,” he says.
There are many benefits to online outreach. Limiting physical travel to meetings, events and area schools has dramatically lowered the carbon footprint of the ambassadors.
While Fogt agrees there are advantages to hosting in-person events, he hopes that the pandemic opens new pathways to interact with one another for more than just the Sustainability Ambassadors.
“I do think that we will see a whole new normal after this,” he says. “I’m hopeful that that new normal will be thinking more about the climate and ways that we can reduce our emissions but still be effective and efficient as a business or corporation.”
According to Fogt, a common misconception about sustainability is that it is all about saving the environment and the “green” parts of the Earth. The truth is, sustainable practices are more closely linked to human prosperity and conservation of resources so that well-being does not decline in the future from overconsumption or hazardous byproducts. Sustainability is about finding solutions that benefit people without degrading the environment.
“Sustainability is not just saving the world, the environment. It’s about making choices every day that limit your footprint on the environment and save you money,” Fogt says. “So it’s something that everyone should be doing.”
There are plenty of ways to lead a more sustainable life, starting with the products you buy and the waste you produce. Recycling, composting, conserving energy and water, buying natural products and reducing your overall consumption are all ways to pitch in.
Anyone interested in being involved with the Ohio University Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors can fill out an application form. The group meets once a month, and members participate in three or more events each semester.
“Everyone can do something… No matter where you are, no matter what socioeconomic status you may have, there’s always something you can do,” Fogt says. “There’s no one single solution to climate change.”