Students offer interdisciplinary approaches to climate action

Julia Rentsch

In a discussion of Colorado State University students’ understandings of sustainable societies, students emphasized cooperation, collective action, educating young people and promoting sustainable agriculture and trade as essentials.

Colorado State University has several LEED certified buildings around campus.(Photo courtesy of Cam Bumsted).
Colorado State University has several LEED certified buildings around campus. (Photo courtesy of Cam Bumsted)

Although CSU students are not familiar with the definition of climate justice presented by Dr. Heather Hackman at a keynote address Thursday, they do understand that a discussion about such issues needs to be had. CSU students said there are several aspects to the discussion and presented interdisciplinary views on the most important methods of mitigating climate change and promoting social justice.


Hackman founded the Hackman Consulting Group in 2005, and now consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice.

According to the Hackman Consulting Group, “a social justice framework (must) be the guiding lens through which we as a nation and global community address the mitigation and adaptation responses to 21st century climate issues.”

CSU students said they are familiar with the concept of climate change and the need for sustainability, but had not heard of climate justice before and are unfamiliar with Hackman’s argument.

Hackman argues that social justice is the only lens through which we can look to find the answers to such questions as: “What does a sustainable society look like?” “How do we deepen our accountability for what is going on?” and “When we talk about sustainability, what exactly are we trying to sustain?”

John Morris, a senior business marketing and communications major, suggested that cooperation is key within a sustainable society.

“Well, first we’d probably have to all get along and agree on something,” Morris said. “We have so many different regulations for different countries … we can’t even agree on whether climate change exists or not. It’d have to be a global agreement and then work from there.”

Hackman noted that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change exists and is driven by human activity in her address Thursday.

Alison Thomson, a junior economics major, said she is familiar with the concept of climate justice and sees agriculture as a central aspect to creating more sustainable and equitable societies.

“I think a sustainable society would be one where every country is able to, at least for the most part, feed their citizens and conduct trade with countries that have crops that (they) are unable to grow,” Thomson said. “I think that would intersect with the concept of social justice because if every country could sustain their citizens, they would be … more willing and able to solve problems of equality.”

It takes about one week to install a set of solar panels, according to Nick Williamson, Commercial Project Manager for Namaste Solar. Colorado State University plans to install five more sets by June. (Photo by: Christina Vessa).
It takes about one week to install a set of solar panels, according to Nick Williamson, commercial project manager for Namaste Solar. (Photo credit: Christina Vessa)

Hana Durkee, a sophomore human development and family studies major, praised Fort Collins’ sustainability initiatives, deeming the city as an eco-friendly and easy place to get around.


CSU and Fort Collins may be leaders in sustainability, but they must continue to strive for improvement in order to continue to lead, according to Hackman.

Durkee said more needs to be done to educate children about climate and social justice issues.

“I think that educating people when they’re younger (will help us address climate) because I think that you can really impact kids, especially in elementary school, because then they can make a difference when they’re our age or even younger,” Durkee said. 

Hackman said educating people of all ages about climate change should be done through actions such as explaining the greenhouse effect.

“Keep it simple – don’t go all Al Gore on people,” Hackman said.

Austin Blaho, a junior mathematics major, emphasized collective action as a method for mitigating climate change and addressing social justice issues.

“A sustainable society … I feel (means) putting the environment in front of ourselves a little bit, and maybe in terms of the way we live not being quite as selfish, (for) the better good for the environment,” Blaho said. “I think the biggest thing with that is to spread the word out there that we need change, and this is going to happen. Try to get everyone on board and whatnot.”

Blaho explained that mathematics could be used to calculate carbon emissions and reduce or eliminate outputs in order to address climate change.

“(We need to) really put it on everyone to know that this isn’t going to happen unless everybody’s 100 percent committed,” Blaho said.

Hackman said social justice is inherently hopeful.

“We can’t have equality until we have equity first,” Hackman said.

Collegian Sustainability Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at or on Twitter @julia_rentsch.