Sam Mason, director of sustainability at Penn State Behrend, stands on a footbridge in Wintergreen Gorge.

Behrend to host public teach-in on climate and justice

Nearly 30 Behrend faculty members and alumni will participate in the Worldwide Teach-In on Climate and Justice on Wednesday, March 30.

Nearly 30 Penn State Behrend faculty members and alumni will participate in the Worldwide Teach-In on Climate and Justice on Wednesday, March 30. The program, which originated at Bard College, is designed to broaden discussion of climate-related issues, framing them through other disciplines, from psychology and global studies to investing and sustainable engineering.

“Climate change is not just a problem for scientists,” said Sherri “Sam” Mason, the director of sustainability at Penn State Behrend and the local coordinator for the event, which is being staged in 50 countries. “We’re all facing this problem, and we can all be part of the solution.”

Panelists will offer a series of “first step” actions that can help students and others overcome the inertia that often occurs when a problem feels too complex to address.

“A lot of our students have a deeply felt anxiety about climate change,” Mason said. “They feel this ominous presence that threatens to radically affect the environment. I understand that. I’ve grown up with this issue. It’s been a shadow on the future for my entire life.

“We have to find some kind of balance,” she said. “The answer can’t be, ‘You aren’t allowed to drive a car anymore, because the emissions pollute the air.’ We need to offer people options that are more practical.”

The teach-in at Behrend, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 5:30 p.m. in McGarvey Commons, in the Reed Union Building. The opening session will feature a video produced with Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist who has challenged world leaders to take immediate action on climate change.

Beginning at 6 p.m., participants can attend one of three 50-minute discussions, which will focus on climate science, climate justice and food systems. A second series of talks, beginning at 7 p.m., will explore energy solutions, global perspectives and effective communication strategies.

In the closing session, panelists will offer a range of easy-to-enact actions that can reduce the stress on the planet.

“We want to give people a sense of purpose,” Mason said. “We also want them to know they aren’t alone. You shouldn’t feel isolated if you are worried about climate change. You aren’t the only student in your major who is scared by this.

“When we get all these different people together, and they feel connected, there’s an energy that comes from that,” she said. “A sense of community. And from that, you get a sense of hope.”

The teach-in is designed to foster conversations that will continue in dining halls, dormitories and other informal settings.

“The hardest part of anything is starting,” Mason said. “It’s OK to just take a baby step. If a million other people all take a baby step, we’ll be a lot closer to a solution.”