If the Climate is a Concert, What Part do I Play?

Peter Buckland
Academic Programs Manager, Sustainability Institute, Penn State

This article is a part of Climate Action at Penn State, a blog highlighting climate solutions, research, and other efforts at Penn State. 

What am I passionate about? Or maybe a better question is: what do I want to invest in? One’s investments say a lot about a person. I try to make my investments in hope—whether that is my family, my interns, or the rolling mountains of deep green hardwood leaves as far as the eye can see. Putting one foot in front of the other in this beautiful world and doggedly pursuing what absolutely must be done—that is an investment for me.

Everything I do at work—at the University, in local and regional government, and in writing and speaking—is an attempt to create a more just and verdant world. Whether it is working with our environmental justice intern, advancing academic changes, or working with partners in industry or local government to advance solar energy, I do my best to advance human dignity and environmental integrity.

Three key areas where I invest much of my time are in education, policy, and the arts.

First, I'm working with about fifteen students this summer through the Penn State Research Experience for Undergraduates focused on Drawdown. It's been a lot of fun and a challenge to develop curriculum and reports that range from engineering and design to credit availability to women farmers in rural India.

In policy, I'm chairing an intergovernmental committee of six municipalities, a council of governments, a school district, two water authorities, one refuse and recycling authority, and one county government to investigate a regional solar power purchase agreement. Combined, they purchase about 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. If we go solar, we could be a model for intergovernmental renewable energy cooperation in Pennsylvania and the United States.

For the last several years, I’ve had a project that brings together my interest in global risk and music, particularly heavy metal. A few years ago I realized that the scientists, big insurance agencies, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the World Economic Forum were all saying the same things: We have to deal with climate change, get a handle on artificial intelligence and computerized mayhem, and control nuclear weapons. A very similar message was coming from a very different sector, heavy metal musicians. So I’ve gone on to write about this in peer-reviewed literature and given talks about it, including my 2017 TEDxPSU talk, “What’s the future hold? Ask a metalhead.” Apocalyptic climate metal can raise our social consciousness. Who knew?

So how does my work affect the world? Where climate change is considered, I’m working to change the University's, local, and regional energy mix through purchasing, policy, politics, pedagogy, and play. Every day, I have the incredible fortune to work with people between the ages of 18 and 80 to advance climate sanity.

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