GeoEthics from the Ground Up: A Carbon-Neutral Education

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Alexandra Moore, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States and Louis A Derry, Cornell Univ, Ithaca, NY, United States
Discussion with students about the science of global warming and the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions – while emitting greenhouse gasses in the process – is a focal point for geoethics in the Cornell University Earth and Environmental Systems (EES) Field Program. If we seek to educate students in the fundamentals of environmental stewardship we must also put stewardship into practice as part of that education. The EES program is a semester length earth systems field program held on Hawai`i Island. In Hawai`i students gain first-hand experience with the interconnected solid earth, living earth, ocean and atmosphere. They also gain first-hand experience with the consequences of unsustainable resource use: marine resource depletion, deforestation and species loss, development v. conservation, fossil fuel v. alternative energy options. Yet as a travel-based field program the pursuit of these goals carries a clear environmental cost. Thus a core element of EES education is to run a carbon-neutral program. To achieve this, students quantify every aspect of the program’s carbon footprint. They decide which actions they must include as part of that footprint and learn how to monitor and calculate the resulting CO2 emissions. Students learn how to reduce emissions where possible, and offset emissions that cannot be eliminated. Working in partnership with island-based conservation organizations students engage in reforestation of degraded native forest landscapes. They model the carbon sequestration capacity of restored forest biomass and soil reservoirs. The outcome of this process has triple-bottom-line benefits: (1) native forest and endangered species habitat is restored, (2) carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered, and (3) students gain hands-on, minds-on experience with carbon-cycle science, ecosystem science, and with the ethical imperative of putting one’s knowledge into action.