At the University of Mary Washington’s 2014 commencement ceremony, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger heard something he knew he’d never forget.
A patch of garbage, estimated to be twice the size of Texas, is floating in the Pacific, Mellinger said, and is the largest of five offshore zones accumulating in the world’s oceans. That fact, which he called “truly alarming,” was shared by Rebecca Rubin, who gave that year’s commencement address to UMW graduates eager to make their mark on the world – while also reducing their carbon footprint.
“You don’t have to be a scientist or an academic to help save nature,” Rubin told them. Everyone plays a part in protecting and preserving the planet.
Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, UMW and Marstel-Day, the Fredericksburg-based environmental consulting firm Rubin founded, are teaming up to present A Climate of Change. This three-part series of public discussions with local leaders, held on Tuesdays in April on Zoom, aims to amp up critical dialogue about climate change and issues like environmental justice, clean energy and conservation. Following each discussion, Mellinger and Rubin will moderate a public question-and-answer session.
“UMW is sort of the anchor of the region,” said Mellinger, whose childhood experiences camping and hiking cultivated an interest in environmental and sustainability issues. “We pull together folks and facilitate conversation and collaboration.”
The partnership between Mary Washington and Marstel-Day began nearly eight years ago, Rubin said, with the launch of the Climate, Environment and Resilience initiative, or CLEAR, and a comprehensive plan for preserving and improving the natural environment, quality of life and economic health of the region.
CLEAR’s campaign with such key partners as Fossil Free Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg Clean and Green Commission to put climate issues front and center has paid off. The Fredericksburg City Council recently unanimously voted to transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2050, launched a city-wide solar program and committed to hiring a sustainability manager.
UMW has played a tremendous role in these efforts, Rubin said, by hosting educational forums on clean energy, land and water conservation, and food and agriculture that have helped bring awareness of the seriousness of these issues and their impacts on the region.
On April 6, the first panel, “Climate and Environmental Justice,” will feature Virginia Delegate Joshua Cole, human rights lawyer and author Qasim Rashid and Virginia Interfaith Power and Light Director Kendyl Crawford, a member of the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice. Together, they’ll discuss how the effects of climate change tend to disproportionally impact vulnerable populations, especially communities of color and lower income residents.
“As a Black elected official serving in Virginia,” Cole said, “it’s my job to raise those concerns and help pass legislation to ensure that clean energy, environmental protections and green jobs are available in every zip code in the Commonwealth.”
Panelists will include UMW Earth and Environmental Science instructor John Tippett, who is the former head of Friends of the Rappahannock, and current director Daria Christian, as well as Robert Courtnage, Alan Rowsome and David Cooper, leaders of Fredericksburg Clean and Green Commission, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust and the Brisben Center, respectively. Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and Matt Eberhardt, deputy superintendent of Fredericksburg City Public Schools, will also participate.
Those involved – especially Bridget McGregor, who helped plan the event at UMW – hope the series will serve as a catalyst for more learning opportunities. An organizer with Virginia League of Conservation Voters, McGregor educates citizens on climate policy and works to get environmental champions elected to public office.
“Earth Day gets people talking,” she said, “but I hope this helps to push the ongoing, larger conversation we all need to have about climate change and what we can do about it.”
To register, please visit A Climate of Change: An Earth Day Miniseries.