This series aims to highlight the ideas and initiatives of the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University’s Small Actions Spark Big Changes campaign in actionable ways for Drexel University students. This story is modeled off of the Academy’s recent blog post, “Talking About Climate Change.”
Healthy debate and discourse are at the center of most undergraduate students’ lifestyles — in class, amongst their peers and out in the world. But whereas climate change activists might approach sustainability discussions with their neighbors, professors or parents one way, it might be harder to have the same conversations with their peers.
For instance, when can and can’t you critique your friends’ on-campus recycling or water usage habits? Where can you find like-minded activists like yourself in the campus community?
To help answer these questions, DrexelNow spoke with Michael Martinez, a fifth-year environmental studies and sustainability student, and Garry Voltaire, a fifth-year political science student — who are both in Associate Professor of Politics Erin Graham, PhD,’s International Environmental Politics (PSCI 399-940/PLCY580) class — about ways to talk climate change with your peers.
- Start Small
Just like the idea that “Small Actions Spark Big Changes,” coined by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Voltaire said he’ll usually try to start small when bringing sustainability tips to his peers. For instance, while doing community service in a park, he mentioned that their project was using a lot of water and talked about the droughts in California that were happening at the time.
“[If I] have a chance to add in a tidbit or try to inform them on whether or not this is actually sustainable, I try to chime in and give them some insight,” he said.
- Lead by Example
Whereas Martinez said that his fellow environmental studies students know to expect him to “geek out over all things sustainability,” with peers he doesn’t know as well, he tries to simply lead by example.
“Like not getting a lid if I go to the coffee store or not picking up a straw or always bringing a reusable water bottle, that goes a lot further than me trying to have an engaged conversation with people about climate change and sustainability,” he said.
This is because most people don’t want to be confronted or corrected on their daily habits, but by seeing Martinez adopt these habits, it makes them more visible and helps normalize sustainable practice.
- Keep Diversity of Experience and Background Knowledge in Mind
Martinez said he thinks about talking to different demographics about climate change in different ways all the time. This is especially important at a place like Drexel, with its diverse student body.
One experience that made the need for this really apparent was on a Drexel study abroad trip Martinez made to Iceland with 40 students from across the country and from around the world.
“They all had different relationships with sustainability practices and the issues that were facing them at home,” Martinez said. “So that kind of opened my eyes to trying to figure out how to talk to people from different places with different backgrounds in sustainability because their background in it is much different than mine. Something that I could say about sustainability in my life doesn’t necessarily apply or actually may end up being almost offensive to them.
- Make it a Community Initiative
Voltaire said he thinks that students passionate about this cause could do a better job of making themselves visible and mobilizing around their beliefs.
“I think student groups could do a better job holding events around the Mario statue or just try to have a presence and reach out to students or recruit more diverse students to broaden their thought process on sustainability,” he said.
Martinez added that although there are limits to the ways students living on a college campus can ensure their own sustainable practices, it’s key for campus communities to come together around such causes as they can become an example for larger communities and the world at large.
“I think the thing about college campuses is that they are kind of microcosms of what society is in the future, so they’re pretty uniquely positioned to become a catalyst for sustainability,” he said. “And so, to see colleges making a larger effort to make sustainability easy for their students and for their faculty, and to make that something super accessible. That’s something that I’m excited to see happening across the country and more and more here at Drexel.”
- Stay Positive and Educated
What Martinez uses himself and what he’d recommend anyone interested in these issues keep abreast of is signing up for the New York Times’ Climate Forward newsletter, as it delivers a lot of additional information about climate change that he’s not discussing in classes, as well as the real-world, real-time impact.
When speaking to peers about these and all climate change issues, the main thing he tries to do is remember to stay positive, and remind others of what they can do and what’s in their control rather than what is too late to fix.
“It’s very easy, especially for me when I’m confronted by it in all of my classes and I know all of the data, to get a little bit doom and gloomy in the way that I talk about it,” he said. “It’s something that I have to think about all the time when I’m talking about climate change. … But there’s a huge positive impact of doing certain things rather than, ‘Oh, if we don’t do these things, there’s a horrible impact.’"