Sarah Niednagel is a Purdue student studying Environmental and Ecological Engineering.
On August 3rd, I had the privilege of attending the very first Hoosier Climate Party hosted by Carbon Neutral Indiana.
All around, this event was a breath of fresh air. Being in a room of people all brought together by their desire to take the extra step to help our planet was energizing. A true representation of collective action. Talking about the climate crisis can be a heavy topic. The more that you learn about the impact that humans have had on the climate, the harder it is to remove that weight from your shoulders. As humans, we all contribute to these systems that are harming our home, but it is important that we don’t let this information take away our hope and inspiration.
My name is Sarah Niednagel, and I am a senior at Purdue University studying Environmental and Ecological Engineering (EEE). A recent survey that was sent out to all undergraduates in the school of engineering revealed that students in EEE had the worst mental health out of all other engineering disciplines. Since EEE is not known to be one of the most cutthroat engineering disciplines, this may come as a shock, but to me and my classmates, this made complete sense. EEE students are not just dealing with the stress of completing their assignments and collecting enough credits to graduate, they are dealing with the pressure of solving the climate crisis and protecting the health of the Earth. Students in EEE and other environmental majors are having to grasp the intensity of the issue. The weight of solving the issue has seemed to have landed in our laps.
Purdue University is the only school in the Big 10 without a climate action plan. As a Purdue student, I was completely disgusted to hear this. In light of this information, I have been working alongside fellow Purdue students within the green organizations on campus (several of which attended the Hoosier Climate Party) to change this and get Purdue to commit to lessening their impact. While decompressing on the phone with my brother, I was expressing my worries about all the work I had in front of me within Purdue’s Student Sustainability Council. In response to my long rant and worried words my brother responded by saying “Just remember that it is just a club, life moves on no matter what happens.” His words were a beautiful reminder, but to me it wasn’t just a club. It’s climate change. The longer we wait to take action, the more harm we are doing.
As an Environmental and Ecological Engineer, I have had to work hard to balance school and my passion for the environment with taking time to care for my mental health. The most helpful thing for me within this journey has been community. A community of people to rant to about how silly it is that people double bag a grocery bag to carry one jar of salsa out of the store. A community of people who support discussions of innovation and ways that we can lessen our impacts. A community of people to invite on your trip to the closest state or national park. My friends in EEE have been my lifeline to not get bogged down by the fear of addressing the climate crisis. My friends in EEE are my inspirations and they give me hope that we will be able to get out of the hole that we have dug.
Carbon Neutral Indiana is creating a community of people just like the one that I have found within Environmental and Ecological Engineering. Although I entered the Hoosier Climate Party knowing only a handful of people, I felt so much comfort from the gathering of people who attended. The party venue was full of chatter and inspired conversations. As I was walking around, I imagined all the new ideas being discussed and connections that were being made. Being in that room of people gave me strength, hope, and inspiration. Set up like a typical cocktail party, attendees were encouraged to network.
Each guest was greeted with a name tag that included a QR code to their LinkedIn and a color -coded title of their career focus area. The greatest innovation starts with an idea and a conversation, Carbon Neutral Indiana is doing a wonderful job at connecting all these passionate individuals and encouraging these conversations. There were booths set up around the party with different activities to participate in and a Bingo board full of ice breakers to fill out to help people get to know each other. One of the activities that specifically sparked my interest focused on systems thinking. For this activity, there was an idea board with orange and blue sticky notes. On the orange sticky notes we were encouraged to list a system that is currently in place that is helping lessen carbon emissions, and on the blue sticky notes we were to list an idea of something we can implement in the future to help lessen carbon emissions. It excites me to think about how the next large environmental innovation could start from a blue sticky note.
At the party I was able to meet people from a variety of backgrounds which ranged from a career focus in education, to work in the energy industry, to entrepreneurship. My night was full of inspiring conversations. There were boxes of goodies for everyone who attended the party and generous prizes for various winners of the bingo game. I am grateful for the connections that I made at the party and for the opportunity I had to attend this event. While a tiny blue sticky note and a yellow bingo board of conversation starters may seem like small things, it is little things like this that will guide us to the future we are searching for. Take that step, refuse the grocery bag, start innovative conversations, surround yourself with people that inspire you. Actions like this and communities like the one formed within Carbon Neutral Indiana are exactly what the planet needs to thrive.