Students, community members attend Climate Reality Project presentation by Marshall professor


Blake Newhouse

Kelli Larsen, professor of social work, addresses the crowd about the dangers of climate change during a presentation on Wednesday evening in the Memorial Student Center.


Students have the capability to properly address climate change, but it will take a full effort from communities and representatives, said a social worker on Marshall University’s campus Wednesday evening.

“Can we change? Absolutely,” said Kelli Larsen, professor of social work at Marshall. “As human beings, we have amazing capabilities, but all of us have to want to change, not just a few of us. We all breathe the air, we all eat the food and we all drink the water, so it’s up to every single one of us to do our part in finding solutions.”

The presentation was a part of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, which works to empower everyday people to become activists, equipping them with the tools, training and networks needed to fight climate change.

The project consists of three questions: Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?

The organization puts an emphasis on capitalizing on the opportunities to use modern innovation and technology to find solutions to problems that ultimately affect everyone.

“Innovation and global markets should be our focus for the future,” Larsen said. “We have the jobs and technology, and we have the abilities. We have just got to make our legislators do these things.”

Larsen asked the crowd to consider how these issues will affect not only humans currently on planet Earth, but how it will affect the humans that inhabit the world in the future.

“You don’t do something just because it’s only going to impact you,” Larsen said. “We have a legacy that we are leaving, and I’d like to see us leave behind some of the incredible technology and jobs we have created, rather than huge amounts of pollution.”

The presentation was filled with both students and community members, including Kathleen Hildebrandt, a Huntington resident from New Jersey who has made efforts to become more involved in Huntington’s fight against climate change.

“We have to do something, or no one is going to be living on this planet,” Hildebrandt said. “We keep talking about how thousands of species are going extinct every year, well we’re just another species, how much more of this can we take?”

The issue of convincing coal communities to join the efforts that battle climate change was of discussion as well.

“This state is not thinking of its future,” Hildebrandt said. “I know you love coal, but there is no reason to continue pollution just because we have had noble coal miners in our history.”

Hildebrandt said we should not demonize those who work in the coal mines. Instead, she said she believes that we should stand up for these workers and their rights.

“As long as they are working for coal mines, those people aren’t going to be able to fight for climate change with us,” Hildebrandt said. 

Hildebrandt went on to say the community shouldn’t blame the everyday coal miner, “The ‘Bobby’ who is working in the coal mines,” for the problems related to climate change.

“‘Bobby’ is just making a living and hoping to get retrained somewhere, and it’s up to the rest of us to stand up for ‘Bobby’ and his children who can’t eat, drink or breathe because of the effects of pollution,” Hildebrandt said.

However, it is not just the coal communities that are directly affected. Larsen pointed out that those who are experiencing the most harmful effects of climate change are the poorer communities in the country.

“When I was in Baltimore City, the trash incinerators were right in the middle of the poorest projects of the city,” Larsen said. “Then, they wonder why so many kids are missing school because of health effects such as asthma. These issues are impacting those who are the least privileged in the country.”

Individuals in attendance were also encouraged to let their voice be heard through the act of voting, with tables set up to help students register to vote and learn more about how they can influence their local representatives.

“Regardless of who is in the White House, I would like to see us make more efforts in these areas. Presidents come and go, but our planet does not,” Larsen said towards the end of the presentation. “There is no planet B. If we mess this one up, we die.”

With the emergence of new technologies, Larsen said she believes there is hope now more than ever that we can properly address the issue of climate change.

Every year, the technology is getting better, just like our phones which become smaller and more powerful,” Larsen said. “Fund the technology, and it will get better.”

Blake Newhouse can be contacted at [email protected].