Tackling an issue as momentous as climate change can be a daunting, seemingly impossible, task, but University of Northern Iowa students are learning how to address the issue at the local level thanks to an innovative class.
Students in associate professor of geography Alex Oberle’s regional analysis and planning class are working with Iowa communities to inventory their carbon emissions and develop climate action plans to recommend strategies to reduce their carbon footprint.
This semester, the students are working with Decorah. Previously, UNI students developed climate action plans for Newton.
“It’s true community engagement,” Oberle said. “The students are highly motivated by this. They see the power of making local changes that contribute to the greater good.”
Some of the specific policy ideas students have considered include changing building codes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in new or significantly renovated structures, increasing or subsidizing affordable housing so residents don’t have to commute in from a different community where housing prices are lower, incentivizing or supporting cycling as a means for commuting, and making solid waste more sustainable by reducing food waste or recapturing methane.
The class works in conjunction with UNI’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE). They share with the city software projection scenarios about greenhouse gas reductions based on the strategies the students employ.
The students gain a variety of skills throughout the course of the class, said Kamyar Enshayan, director of the CEEE.
“Students are involved with emissions inventory, and they learn how to approach city officials,” Enshayan said. “They have to record a presentation for the city council and make their case. And they learn about the situation we’re in, in terms of our dependency on fossil energy.”
Oberle said the program will likely continue to work with more communities in Iowa.
“It enhances UNI’s community engagement,” Oberle said. “[We are] committed to doing this from here on out.”
For more information about this year's project, visit the students' blog at openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/uniplandecorah. Learn more about UNI's Geography program at csbs.uni.edu/geography.