Hadley Willman and fellow speaker Don Maruska discuss the importance of collaboration for climate change and sustainability. Credit: Leila Touati / Mustang News

The Initiative of Climate Leadership and Resilience (ICLR) hosted their annual Climate Solutions Now conference, an event coordinated across 12 different industries featuring professionals speaking on climate change and sustainability. 

Cal Poly professors and alumni presented their work on various tracks within sustainability, including agriculture and agribusiness, campus facilities and operations and climate communication and engagement during a virtual conference from Oct. 26 to 28.

The conference was attended by approximately 474 attendees and 64 speakers. Climate Solutions Now took place on Whova, a virtual event organizer where attendees and speakers made use of the polls, Q&A and leaderboard. Organizers of the conference, including recent Cal Poly graduate and Assistant Director of ICLR Hadley Willman, also moderated the talks for those three days.

“Being able to be a part of that and interact with the speakers and just having them all here in one space was just really rewarding,” Willman said. 

Willman also spoke at the conference that Friday, with her talk titled “Curiosity, Collaboration, and Everyday Leadership: The Driving Forces of Climate Impact.” Willman’s talk focused on prioritizing oneself before prioritizing the planet, and committing to a plan that is achievable for oneself.

“We can’t give 110% of ourselves to the climate crisis if we’ve given ourselves nothing in return. We have to take care of ourselves first and understand that we can’t do everything. You’re trying your best where you can to learn and connect and lead,” Willman said.

She ended her talk by giving attendees a piece of advice for a greener future. “Don’t be a hero, be a leader. Lead by bringing people together, being persistent and inspiring others and starting conversations.”

Agribusiness professor Michael McCullough spoke about the California Clean Biomass Collaborative: an association tasked with finding sustainable and efficient alternatives to agricultural burning in the San Joaquin Valley. 

Due to the placement of the valley, dust settles there and does not get transferred by wind or by the ocean, causing the air quality index to plummet. Agricultural burning was prohibited in the valley but biomass is still a problem to be dealt with, as now vines and other agriculture must dematerialize without harming the planet.

The California Clean Biomass Collaborative formed in 2021 to identify alternative uses for agricultural burning, and aims to be as multi-engagement with different stakeholder groups as possible, bringing in different viewpoints and ideas. Their following conference was the California BioResources Alliance Symposium – which took place early November.

“With this next symposium we’re going to push it out there next week that we want to create a scoping plan for the state — a biomass scoping plan — that really sets out our goals and our accomplishments,” McCullough said. 

McCullough’s talk took advantage of the Whova website’s Q&A, where attendees were able to ask questions after the talk to learn more about the collaborative and their ideas for substituting agricultural burning.

Nearing the end of the conference, Cal Poly statistics lecturer James Oksanish created the #changeFORclimate hashtag for social media, an idea that started from being isolated during the pandemic.

He presented the origins of the hashtag and its responsibility to enact change during his talk, the “#changeFORclimate and the #ichangeFORclimate campaign.”

“During the pandemic I was trying to find something constructive to do. I noticed that (so far as I knew) there wasn’t any hashtag that asked Americans individually to change for climate,” Oksanish said. “I noticed that Americans were being asked [by the government] to change for COVID-19, which was considered to be a crisis. So that was the genesis of that idea [which] was a couple years ago, but it really took me about a year to get the website going.”

With the hashtag, Oksanish aims to ask individuals — not politicians — to demonstrate that they change their behavior for the climate of the Earth. He encouraged attendees to change their email signature to include four things that one can actively do to change for the climate, hence the “FOR” in the #changeFORclimate.

“If we can do things to cause the climate to change, then we can do things to cause the climate to not change,” Oksanish said. “Rather than having this passive form of acceptance, I want to have an active constructive hashtag.”