A well-known Unity College Professor led a highly successful climate change awareness effort during the recent Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.

John Zavodny, Director of the Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities at Unity College and WERU radio show host, served as primary planner for the 350.org “Moving Planet” climate action event at the fair. He recently helped to organize the highly successful Maine Grass Roots Media Conference at the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts.

The rally was held on September 24, 2011 at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) grounds in Unity.

The climate change action began at 3:30 p.m. in the Commons area of the Common Ground Country Fair and culminated in fair-goers flowing through a large scale number “350” at 3:50 pm. The number “350” refers to the amount of carbon that the atmosphere can safely contain. Current estimates put the amount of carbon in the atmosphere just above 390 parts per million.

Zavodny says he got involved in the event because it seemed like a great opportunity for Unity College to take the lead in a climate change effort on the national stage.

“Climate change will not be solved by a single individual, single program, or single discipline,” Zavodny stated. “Similarly, the Moving Maine climate change action at Common Ground involved several organizations including Unity College, MOFGA, Transition Towns, and 350.org.

It was also a good opportunity for Unity College students, Zavodny says.

“We were hoping to give students leadership opportunities, grow Unity’s partnership with MOFGA, and raise awareness regarding the single most pressing problem of our age – climate change,” noted Zavodny.

By every objective measure the event was a rousing success.

“We had over 500 participants,” Zavodny enthused. “Our event drew quite a bit of news attention to climate change, involved upwards of 30 unity students in leadership roles, and we got to know our friends at MOFGA better by working on a meaningful and successful joint project.”

Though some environmentally focused individuals voice concern over the cynicism too often evident in public discourse about global climate change, Zavodny is optimistic about the chances to raise awareness about the problem and ultimately enlist many to push for policy solutions.

“I believe that people are ultimately optimistic and honestly want to do the right thing,” Zavodny stated. “This kind of awareness raising event serves to draw attention to solutions – like local agriculture–for climate change and that’s what the vast majority of people want. If you are working on hard problems like climate change there will always be fear, discouragement, and denial. The trick is to make sure that you’re on the right side of the science and move forward. Regardless.”

The road to this event was not an easy one for Zavodny, who submitted a proposal to an event selection committee.

From Zavodny’s winning proposal, “Imagine the powerful image of hundreds—maybe thousands—of Common Ground Country Fair attendees parading through the fair, forming the number 350, then raising local organic produce to the sky.”

According to Zavodny’s winning proposal, “The whole event and its lead up will be thoroughly documented by a team of young videographers from Unity College’s Documentary Film course.”

“We found out that our proposal was accepted about 3 weeks before the event itself,” Zavodny said. “The challenge and the fun was trying to see how big we could make the event in a very short period of time. Getting leaders, promoting the event, creating materials, making a plan – it all had to come together very quickly.”

The Common Ground Fair is one of the premier events for sustainably minded supporters of local agriculture, so Zavodny and volunteer organizer Sara Trunzo ’08, Unity College Food and Farms Project Coordinator, thought that the ingredients for a well-attended event were present.

“At some point I told Sara that I would be disappointed if we had less than 500 participants,” Zavodny said. “She stopped counting on Saturday when we reached 504. The picture is beautiful and we got some great video. Our MOFGA partners are happy. Everyone is excited and more aware of the climate change challenge. And folks had fun. Yes – it was everything I hoped it would be.”

For Zavodny, opportunities to advance awareness of global climate change are many and varied. During the first weekend in October he will be leading a group of 12 Unity College students to the Camden International Film Festival in Camden, Maine.

“These communication and media events are all designed to give students experience in working with media to help the public understand the science of climate change,” Zavodny explained. “This kind of event helps remind Unity College faculty, staff, and students that knowing the science of climate change is one thing and translating that to public awareness is something else.”

Unity College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education which emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.

In 2010, Unity College was named to the top 30 of the Washington Monthly college rankings, and was one of eighteen U.S. colleges and universities named to The Princeton Review’s Green Rating Honor Roll.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011