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Environment / Sustainability

Watching the skies

March 15, 2012
by Savannah King

Few people take the duties of being match-makers as seriously as SueEllen Campbell and John Calderazzo. That's how the two, both English professors at CSU, refer to themselves when discussing global warming issues.

The two professors, who met in 1980 at a faculty picnic in Ohio and were subsequently married, are “intellectual brokers” for Changing Climates, a multidisciplinary education and outreach initiative that engages faculty, students, and the community in discourse about global warming.

Expansive program

In 2007, they started by inviting any faculty member who was researching or teaching climate change to join in discussions. Almost immediately, the program expanded to include faculty from nearly 30 different departments on campus and all eight colleges. Now, more than a hundred experts from on and off campus have spoken here to graduate and undergraduate students as well as members of the community.

Scott Denning, an atmospheric science professor and friend of the two, says that he and other speakers try to make these lectures a combination of logic and optimism so that solid information, common sense and a hopeful message will spur people into action – more so than traditional “doom-and-gloom environmentalist” messages might.

Denning, Calderazzo and Campbell say the response to Changing Climates has been overwhelmingly positive from participants. The program, which is supported by CSU’s Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes, or CMMAP, has also helped to spawn classes at CSU that include or focus on climate, as well as allowing Calderazzo and Campbell to work with others in the National Science Foundation’s educational outreach programs.

Cross-fertilization benefits
Although SueEllen Campbell and John Calderazzo are moving into transitional retirement, they'll still focus on the Changing Climates program while also pursuing their favorite pastimes.

Not only has it had those effects, Denning says he’s also seen what he calls a greater amount of cross-fertilization among faculty and students since the Changing Climates program started. “We realize that climate change is something that everyone has their own angle on,” Denning says. Many professors and students from different disciplines are now guest lecturing and talking to one another, giving each other new perspectives each time they bring their own interests into the mix. 

Still, Campbell and Calderazzo stress that global warming is an important issue fraught with misunderstanding and political spin. Denning agrees, saying that “part of what we need to do to solve this problem is stop taking political sides – instead, we just want to talk common sense.”

Calderazzo adds, “Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Vegetarian, the greenhouse gases we’re putting into the air don’t care.” 

Getting the word out

“I want to contribute to understanding and solutions,” Campbell says of her role in the program. With technical support from CMMAP, she also runs the Climate Change website that collects, annotates, and sometimes creates articles, books, websites, and videos dealing with climate change from a wide variety of perspectives, all intended for interested non-specialists.

Denning applauds their efforts here as a success, saying that Changing Climates has changed his way of communicating. He adds that he couldn’t have made such a significant change without the help of Calderazzo and Campbell.

“This has become a rejuvenation of my career,” Denning said. “It’s helped to give a bigger meaning to my science.”

Outside of his skill in classroom communication, Calderazzo’s poetry and nonfiction writing help to “translate environmental problems and make them more accessible to students and mainstream audiences,” he says. The same goes for Campbell’s work as teacher and writer, which has focused on nature and environmental topics.

Environment in the literary arts

Both professors are authors of many articles and books that highlight the environment and global warming. Campbell says she has a lifelong love of the outdoors, and realized in the mid-1980s that she could meld the environment with her writing. Calderazzo says it took him a little longer to find his distinctive blend of the creative and the environmental, but eventually his love of storytelling and nature morphed into his current work.

Starting next year, the two will ease into transitional retirement and will teach only spring classes for the next four years. But Calderazzo says they’re “fighting the notion that we’re disappearing.”

Instead, retirement will create more time for the couple to focus on the Changing Climates program while also pursuing their favorite pastimes, such as travel and hiking. Campbell says the university’s values in research, teaching, and outreach will allow them to keep contributing work in all these areas for the benefit of the program.

Calderazzo wholeheartedly agrees, and he’s excited at the prospect of the work they can do together in the future.

“Changing Climates is an exhilarating, late career development,” Calderazzo says. “I love doing something that has real-world meaning.”