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Great report in the RIT Reporter by RIT student and
CSI Innovation Fellow Michael Conti!


Published October 29, 2009
A Wonderful Day to Save the World
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Students and community leaders participate in 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action.

Steve Pfost

Over 60 cyclists rode the distance from the downtown library to the Innovation Center at RIT on Saturday, October 24. Students and local community members rallied by the cry of “Climate Change Action Now!” Punctuating the day’s events was a Bicycling Summit, proposing a series of changes that could radically expand alternative transportation in the community. It was a day of worldwide protest brought to Rochester by concerned efforts at RIT. Thousands of people from over 175 countries participated in coinciding events, as part of Bill McKibben (writer of “Deep Economy”) and 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action.

But what did this flurry of activity accomplish? According to scientific researchers and world leaders, our atmospheric concentration of CO² is already at 390 parts per million and climbing; a critical amount that is causing the polar ice caps to melt at an alarming rate and changing global weather patterns. The earth is heating up, and it will take more than a few rag tag protestors to fix things, right?

Not so fast. The day’s activities had a distinctly different tone. Instead of lonely cries by environmentalists and empty promises by leaders, both administration and student activists stood side by side on this issue. Not only did RIT President William Destler and his wife Rebecca Johnson bike the 14-mile round trip, but a contingent of cycling enthusiasts from Rochester Community Bikes, Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua and the Rochester area also joined the RIT group. Environmentalists’ positions are now transforming from the fringe to center stage as more political leaders endorse the need to do something about the impending droughts, rising sea levels and mass extinctions promised by global warming.

Steve Pfost

The bicycle trip began slowly, with a group of 20 departing from the Sentinel amid gloomy skies. The 40 or so who met the group at the Public Library gave the event some fresh legs, and their return home was a good-natured afternoon excursion. As the afternoon light shone through the golden and orange autumn leaves, the large group began to diverge into smaller packs mixed with students and older participants. “Having the wind in your hair, the sun at your back, that motorcycle stereotype… well, it’s all true,” said Nathan Schiffer, a fifth year Computer Science major. The event was intended to get more people out of their cars, which he said, “isolates people.” Biking is an activity that directly involves the rider with the environment. This simple action also brought together a large community of interests at the Innovation Center.

A community of concerned students is what many people who have gravitated to the Innovation Center are looking to form. Kyle Shay, a fourth year Computer Science and Environmental Studies major, joined his classmates and teachers in the morning, planting trees in the wetlands near the RIT Observatory to offset carbon emissions. “If people see us planting trees and riding bikes today, maybe they’ll look at the news or online and see the over 4,000 events that are happening around the world. Maybe they’ll see that action needs to be taken immediately,” said Shay. The group intends to grow 350 trees and have planted 100 this fall.

According to Christy Tyler, a professor of Environmental Science, “We need to increase the amount of trees we plant, but that isn’t enough to offset all of the extra carbon dioxide. We need to produce less to begin with.” Tyler estimates that 350 fully-grown trees of this type will offset the same amount of carbon produced by three cars in one year. This kind of change, though symbolic, is certainly slow to set in.

“These kind of movements take time,” said Elisabetta D’Amanda, an Italian professor in RIT’s foreign language department. As a participant in the “slow foods” movement, which was born out of Italian counter-culture, D’Amanda has been pushing for more environmentally conscious changes to RIT’s Dining Services. Slow foods (a play on fast food) are those that are locally harvested, healthy and sustainably grown. Her contribution to the event was a $3.50 meal of rice and lentils, served to a tired and eager assembly of bikers. D’Amanda stated, “I would like to start a slow food movement on campus … but this kind of thing needs to be student organized. If the students don’t push for it, it won’t happen.”

Steve Pfost

Products of passionate student-professor collaborations are the proposals of RIT professor Jon Schull at RIT’s first-ever Bicycling Summit. The Rochester Greenway was subject of much discussion at the Innovation Center. Approximately 5 miles of pathway already exist in a straight line between the Lehigh Valley Trail and the center of downtown; Schull’s idea is to create an all-weather covered road that would link the paths. This would provide year-round access to a much used conduit in the community. Garnering attention from numerous public officials, the Greenway is now being examined by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority as part of a feasibility study.

The need to bring people of all ages out of their cars and into the environment is actively expressed now more than ever.
As the grassroots movement builds, teachers are looking towards student leaders to transform their Rochester home into a local model of sustainability that can be adapted and applied to cities and neighborhoods across the country.

To learn more about the Rochester Greenway and other sustainable projects at RIT, visit the Innovation Center on Thursdays at 12 p.m. or go to

http://rochestergreenway.org.

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