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triptych- Health brown-gold coral on Dec. 2014, Dying white coral on Feb. 2015 and Dead decaying black-brown coral Aug. 2015
Photo composite of before, during, and after bleaching at Airport Reef, Tutuila, American Sāmoa. Image courtesy of R. Vevers, XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

This article is the first in a series on curriculum and initiatives at UH Hilo focusing on sustainability issues.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo offers courses in several fields ranging from geography to marine science to agriculture that inform students about current ecological problems and encourage the budding environmentalists to find sustainable solutions both locally and globally.

One such course—GEO 301 Global Warming/Climate Change—is taught by Ryan Perroy, a geographer who specializes in land degradation and recovery processes, erosion and invasive species. Perroy introduces students to basic scientific concepts behind climate change (the greenhouse gas effect, climate-related systems, contemporary atmospheric changes in relation to Earth’s geological history) and then asks his students to take a look at current and future impacts, challenges and opportunities.

“We start out discussing science—the atmospheric chemistry and how radiation reacts with different gasses, etc.—then we move into thinking about impacts and future predictions and social aspects of it,” explains Perroy.

Applying the concepts to their local environment

Perroy’s students hail from California, the Marshall Islands, Chuuk, Sāmoa and other areas experiencing major impacts from climate change. The students are providing their own testimonies of what they are observing in their communities and the places they call home.

“For many of my students, it’s not an abstract thing to them,” says Perroy. “They are already having to deal with it.”

Students are asked not only to analyze climate change on a global level but also to apply the concepts they are learning to their local environment. This means taking a close look at the UH Hilo campus. There are many sustainability projects and efforts around the Hilo campus such as recycling and energy savings plans. GEO 301 tackles the pros and cons to some of these projects, helps students identify possible problems and hopefully create solutions to help the university reach its goal of reducing its ecological impact while increasing efficiency and sustainability.

“We want to recognize that we are all a part of various systems—and one system we all share is the university system,” says Perroy. “We discuss what we can do and what we are all contributing to make this campus more efficient and more sustainable—definitely one of the things we cover.”

For more on the GEO 301 class, read the full article at UH Hilo Stories.

—A UH Hilo Stories article written by Anne Rivera, a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

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