Cultivating change

During the first international conference on climate and philosophy, philosophers from USF and other national and international universities attempted to change the way people at USF think about climate change. They suggested ethical ways for interacting with their environment. According to organizers, more than 600 people attended the three-day conference, which ran Thursday through Saturday.

“We’ve planted the seed, and now we have to care for it and cultivate it. We want to see little tendrils growing out of this,” said Philip Bishop, a philosophy graduate student who helped put the conference together.

Organizers expected the first of those tendrils to be an increased effort by teachers to emphasize environmental ethics in curricula. Bishop said he hoped this increased educational emphasis could lead to bigger things, among them a green campus, a more comprehensive public transportation system and a new Phyllis P. Marshall Center that is eco-friendly.

“(USF’s) emblem is green, and it’s the world,” Bishop said. “How appropriate is it for changes to start here? These things are possibilities. Let’s do it.”

Bishop said those changes may take some time because of a lack of support to usher them in, but he and philosophy graduate assistant Darlene Corcoran saw strong indicators of a desire for change during the conference.

“There (was) this overwhelming feeling of being on the brink and seeing something happening in its very first stages. We were sort of in awe of all of it,” Corcoran said.

USF Executive Vice President Carl Carlucci opened the three-day affair with a speech underscoring the conference’s importance. According to Corcoran, Carlucci’s address was a sign the University recognizes the importance of the issue.

Corcoran also saw the number of attendees as a positive indication of the interest in climate change within the University community. On the first day of the conference, organizers expected 40 or 50 people. When more than 300 showed up, Corcoran said they were shocked.

The extra food and refreshments needed for the unexpected attendees threatened to stretch thin the conference budget, which organizers kept at a minimum so the conference could be free for everyone attending. But the unforeseen expense was covered by small contributions from those at the conference and one larger contribution from an anonymous donor.

Because the affair was run on such a low budget, the volunteer efforts of graduate philosophy students pulled it all together, said Martin Schönberg, an associate professor of philosophy at USF who generated the idea for the conference.

“The whole process was bottom-up,” Schönberg said. “Not top-down.”

Bottom-up movements like these will lead to changes in policy, said Schönberg, who expects to see a much different campus five years from now.

The event was the first in what organizers hope is a series of conferences on climate change. The goal is future conferences that build upon this one by involving more academic disciplines, Bishop said.

John Anton, distinguished professor of philosophy, summed up the spirit of the conference in his closing remarks.

“We have to consider this conference as an important turning point not only in the affairs of our department, our college, our University and our community, but as an event that is bound to have further consequences,” Anton said. “We cannot stop at this point. This is the beginning, not the end.”

The conference proceedings can be viewed online at