Students from the School of Earth and Sustainability came together for the Climate Action Forum to discuss the City of Flagstaff's Climate Action Plan and proposals to improve NAU's Climate Action Plan. Thursday evening's forum featured various speakers and representatives from the city, the NAU Office of Sustainability and NAU Climate Science and Solution graduate students.
Senior and Environmental Caucus Manager Paul Flores opened the forum by explaining the importance of protecting Flagstaff's land and the work to improve the quality of life.
"I feel that it's important to recognize the land that we currently occupy," Flores said. "It's also important to reflect on the environmental stewards here tonight who understand the connectivity of the environment to the quality of life."
Erik Nielsen, Environmental Caucus chair and professor in the School of Earth and Sustainability, recounted the daunting challenge NAU faces in creating a realistic Climate Action Plan that the university can stick to, unlike the previous plan.
According to the Office of Sustainability website, the university's first Climate Action Plan was approved in 2010 with the goal of being carbon neutral by 2020. However, the university is far from reaching its goal, which has led the Office of Sustainability to return to the drawing board this fall to update and improve its Climate Action Plan.
"NAU has a large challenge before it if we are to de-carbonize within a 10- or 25-year window, which is what we are trying to figure out to make an impact," Nielsen said. "We know we must be ambitious to decrease all, or most, of the entirety of our carbon footprint as the university continues to grow."
Nielsen noted that NAU has the ability and the capacity to charter a path forward to meet the university's goal of reaching carbon neutrality within 15 years.
In order to accomplish the task, the Office of Sustainability and environmental clubs on campus planned four work sessions throughout September and October. At these work sessions, the Office of Sustainability, Green Jacks and Sustainability Ambassadors encouraged students to discuss NAU's new Climate Action Plan and receive feedback before gathering at Thursday's Climate Action Forum.
"This process to update our Climate Action Plan started at the end of last spring with our action teams and facility services to develop a better Climate Action Plan moving forward," Nielsen said. "This semester, we've had some outreach activities and we are engaging with a consultant to help us make an impact to combat climate change."
Jillian Goulet, the Community Resilience VISTA for Flagstaff, discussed the city's vulnerability adaptation and resilience assessment, along with Flagstaff's Climate Adaptation and Action Plan.
Goulet acknowledged the importance of having a Climate Adaptation and Action Plan to help curb the effects of climate change.
"By 2050, the City of Flagstaff will experience hotter temperatures, increased risk of disease and illness from mosquitoes and other pests," Goulet said. "We will also see less of a snowpack, which doesn't seem realistic today, but by 2050 we will see more rainfall instead of snowfall."
Goulet said roughly 7,000 tourism jobs in Flagstaff will also be affected by climate change. Not only will climate change affect winter tourism, but also summer tourism as an increase in wildfires is expected. These effects come after the Museum Fire that displaced many and has increased flash flood risks for the city.
Climate Science and Solutions graduate students proposed adaptation strategies that range from the university's energy sector to the water sector, then to the immediate implementation of NAU's Climate Action Plan to help curb the effects of climate change.
The Office of Sustainability representatives concluded their presentation by encouraging students to help NAU become net-zero carbon emissions by getting involved with the Environmental Caucus, Green Jacks and Sustainability Ambassadors on campus.