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POTSDAM — According to Bob E. Deans, the most important kind of environmental change happens in the minds of the next generation, a value he put to work in a presentation Tuesday to Clarkson University students.

Mr. Deans, director of strategic engagement for environmental advocacy group the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Tuesday afternoon the presentation’s purpose was to educate students about environmental responsibility and to open their eyes to how they can shape the future of renewable energy.

“There’s nothing more important than engaging the next generation of American stewards on what we need to do to take care of our environment, take care of our air, our water, our wildlife, our lands, for the future of our children and for the future of our planet,” he said, calling climate change “the central environmental challenge of our time.”

Mr. Deans said most importantly, students can contact their congresspeople, senators and the president to let them know that a cleaner Earth is important to them — because the fossil fuel companies have already made their concerns clear.

“The fossil fuel industry wants to anchor our future in the dirty fuels of the past; they have huge stakes in this game,” he said, reporting that eight cents of every public dollar in the U.S. is spent on coal, gas and oil, and the fossil fuel industry spent more than $720 million “on its allies and its agenda in the U.S. Congress” in the two years leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. “Their voice is being heard. It’s important that we stand up and say what’s important to us.”

He said he hopes students also understand progress in addressing environmental problems has been made, reporting that, as a portion of economic output, U.S. energy consumption is half what it was 35 years ago, and oil consumption has been cut 21 percent in the past 10 years.

In his presentation to approximately 75 students, faculty and community members gathered in the college’s Student Center Forum, Mr. Deans said that many people today do not understand that the welfare of the Earth and the welfare of humanity are connected.

“All too often we act as though the two are disconnected,” he said, reporting that the $1.3 trillion spent each year on fossil fuels is more than what is spent on national defense, Social Security, public education and the Environmental Protection Agency. “That disconnect is embedded in the economic, social and political fabric of our society. It shifts our consumption habits and our consumed wealth.”

Mr. Deans, who added that the disconnect “discounts the urgency of finding a better way forward,” said healthy Earth systems are essential to human life, and are connected to our ultimate fate.

“Clean water, fresh air, healthy wildlife and lands are not some luxury to be considered only after earnings reports come in,” he said. “When our natural systems suffer, we suffer with them, and if they suffer enough, we will not survive.”

Students attending the presentation Tuesday said they appreciated Mr. Deans’s moving speech, and agreed with his argument that the next generation must act to effect environmental change.

Marley B. Carroll, an environmental science and engineering master’s degree candidate who appreciated Mr. Deans’s use of Native American themes to begin and end his speech, said the urgency of the speech got him thinking about taking action on climate change.

“I’ve never been so active in either going to board meetings or sending letters to the government,” he said. “I don’t know why I haven’t yet. I guess I’m too lazy, but I feel that I should, and it seems like it will make a difference having our voices heard.”

Veronica F. Bagundes, a chemical engineering major with a minor in sustainable energy systems engineering, who plans to work for an organization such as the Natural Resources Defense Council upon graduating, said it was important that Mr. Deans framed climate change as not a liberal or conservative issue, but a human one.

“I think it’s important that it’s not seen as a liberal issue, in order to gain support of all sorts of people,” she said. “It’s really a human issue. We all need to deal with it, no matter what your political association is or what your spiritual association is. It’s a matter we all face, and we’ll all suffer the same consequences if we don’t change ways of thinking.”

Mr. Deans’s presentation, titled “The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril,” was cosponsored by the United Way of Northern New York and Clarkson University. To learn more about the NRDC and its activities, visit http://www.nrdc.org/.

30 September 2015

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