By Carol Lea Spence
A new statewide consortium headquartered at the University of Kentucky is developing interdisciplinary climate research and teaching collaborations to empower people to become well-informed stewards of the environment. The mission of the Kentucky Climate Consortium (KYCC) is to act as a catalyst for climate research and education in the state by providing networking opportunities for Kentucky-based climate scholars and educators from universities, nonprofits and government organizations. This will enable them to leverage their expertise and passion to collaboratively pursue climate-related research, teaching and public outreach.
Co-founders Carmen Agouridis, associate dean in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and Lauren Cagle, assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, wanted to open the consortium to membership from outside UK and beyond the usual scientific fields. Some climate consortium members come from the hard sciences, but others represent fields as diverse as engineering, social sciences, humanities, communication and the arts.
“Climate and climate change are extremely complex topics that require the attention of experts from many different disciplines,” said Cagle, KYCC director. “So often, the things we are individually studying have connections to each other, but it can be hard to build on them and make a bigger impact if we don’t know what those connections are to begin with.”
It was serendipity that brought Cagle and Agouridis together in 2018 during UK’s Water Week. At the time, Agouridis was an associate extension professor with a focus on water issues in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. As an extension professor, much of Agouridis’ work focused on connecting people who needed answers with the people who had them. It was during the conference, where Cagle spoke about climate denial, that the two professors discussed building a network to connect scientists and educators who might otherwise remain unknown to each other.
“We cannot come up with solutions to problems without recognizing that it’s going to take a vast group of people with a variety of backgrounds and expertise. We saw our job as connecting those people,” Agouridis said.
Stuart Foster, the Kentucky state climatologist based in the Kentucky Climate Center at Western Kentucky University, is part of the consortium. He’s pleased Cagle and Agouridis reached out to other institutions when forming the consortium.
“UK’s reaching out to other institutions across the state basically shows a commitment to bring people together around a very important topic,” Foster said. “It’s an opportunity to leverage other intellectual capital and other resources, with no political agendas.”
A grant from the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute got the consortium on its feet and provided funds to conduct a research survey that would provide Cooperative Extension with the tools to effectively speak with Kentuckians about pressing water issues. Water, while a vitally important issue, is only one of the many aspects a changing climate affects. Reflecting that diversity, consortium members have extensive and varied research and teaching experiences. Many are also engaged in community-oriented climate work, through informal educational opportunities and public lectures. The consortium has recently created a listserv to help disseminate information.
As the team stressed, climate knows no geopolitical boundaries and neither does people’s acceptance or denial of the situation. One of KYCC’s missions is to find ways to present complex scientifically based and nonpartisan information to a variety of audiences.
The subject may be complicated and the issue urgent, but Foster sees the Kentucky Climate Consortium as a strong step forward for Kentucky.
“When we look at climate change, we’re not just looking at how the climate in Kentucky will change and what will be the impact of that,” he said. “It’s an awareness that the changes that are happening elsewhere will also affect Kentucky. I see the KYCC as a way for us to do good things for good people, our fellow Kentuckians.”