Villanovans march to raise climate change awareness

Emma Pettit


Last Thursday, dozens of people donned parkas and scarves to gather around the steps of Corr Hall in shivering 40-degree weather and march for climate change awareness. 

The event was not for the faint of heart. The hour-long procession circled the entire campus and made stops along the way to hear mini lectures from Villanova professors. But regardless of the weather, a core group of students and the public traipsed on with signs and stickers that affirmed their dedication to the cause.  

 The Villanova Campus Climate March was sponsored by the Catholic Relief Services campus advisors, along with the President’s Environmental Sustainability Committee and the Student Sustainability Network. The groups passed out signs that read, “I march for…” to every participant and allowed them to fill in the blanks. Some chose to write that they march for an animal on the brink of extinction, others for the lives of future generations. One pregnant woman in the crowd drew an arrow on her sign that pointed downwards at her stomach. 

Regardless of reason, the crowd was united in their belief that something must be done about the increasing threat of climate change. Another idea that seemed to unite them was that action to mitigate climate change and faith are intrinsically linked. 

This was emphasized when Morgan Gruenewald, president of the CRS Campus Advisors, began the event with an interfaith prayer. Students read from both the Bible and the Quran and eventually transitioned into a call-back prayer where the audience repeatedly sang out, “God of creation, help us renew the Earth.”

Ted Miles, a representative to the Catholic Climate Covenant from Catholic Relief Services, also reflected the sentiment of the interconnectedness of the environment and God in his opening speech when he said, “Every act of creation is an act of incarnation.” He highlighted several ways to combat global climate change including “denouncing evil and announcing good news,” which clearly relates to living a religious life.

During the actual march, the emphasis was less on God and more on how each academic discipline relates to the environment. 

The first mini-lecture was given by Bill Lorenz, Director of Villanova’s Sustainable Engineering Program. Lorenz focused on the nuts and bolts of climate change. He said in order to keep the temperature stable, there needs to be an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. Lorenz then went on to describe how engineers have a responsibility to investigate ways to make renewable energy more efficient. 

Lorenz also offered up this fun fact: cutting out meat from a person’s diet is equivalent to driving 25,000 miles less annually. He explained that going vegetarian was one of the most environmentally conscious things a person can do. 

Next up was Samantha Chapman, a professor in the Biology Department. Chapman emphasized that mitigating and adapting to climate change was an interdisciplinary effort. No one department or section of the population could do it alone.

Mark Doorley, director of the Ethics Program, agreed and said that people sometimes question what ethics has to do with climate change, to which he replied, “Science doesn’t tell you what to do. Ethics tells you what to do.” Doorley emphasized that ethics and the liberal arts helps decision makers “think through the noise” and choose the right course of action, especially when it comes to the environment. 

The group then marched on to hear Ruth McDermott-Levy, director of the College of Nursing’s Center for Global and Public Health. McDermott-Levy spoke in the entrance of Driscoll about the public health risks that can increase with global warming: asthma, hypertension and stroke just to name a few. She also noted that nurses are one of the most trusted professions and therefore need to do their part to educate those on the effects of climate change.

The last professor mini-lecture was delivered by Ronald Hill, director of the School of Business’ Center for Church Management and Business Ethics. When introduced, Hill remarked on the tepid applause he received, chuckled and said, “I think I know what you want me to say.” 

Surprising to some in the audience, Hill did not mince words. He remarked that business and climate have a complicated relationship, but “the truth is business has failed miserably.” Hill said that business has never been able to get beyond profit motivation, and also that it is up to consumers to demand and pay for potentially more expensive environmentally friendly products. Needless to say, his speech elicited a more enthusiastic reaction from the crowd than expected. 

Though the topics of the mini-lectures ranged significantly, almost every professor commented on the polarizing political nature of climate change. Doorley remarked that people in America call scientists who study climate change “liars,” which, to him, is absurd. McDermott-Levy said she often speaks to Congress on the issue of climate change and said, “I can’t use those words because they don’t like the truth.” Instead, she has to warp her message by talking about “air quality” and using less controversial terms than global warming. 

These professors all communicated the message that not only does something need to be done about climate change, but also that students should not feel ashamed or marginalized when they talk about these beliefs. They also emphasized that the University is a perfect place to make a difference in their local environment.

The march ended at the Oreo with a speech from Joseph Robertson from the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Robertson asked people to raise their hands if they thought an elected official would be interested in what they had to say. Out of a crowd of 30, only one or two cautious hands went into the air.

“You’re wrong,” Robertson said to those who did not raise their hands. He went on to say that simple, non-aggressive communication with elected officials can make an impact. Even students can advocate for their interests and cause positive change.

The Villanova Campus Climate March covered everything from the waste impact of cell phones to the ethical dilemmas surrounding nuclear power plants. Despite the adverse weather conditions, the march equipped dozens of students with ways they, as 18, 19 and 20 year olds, can take small steps to change the world.