Creative Commons

Lindsy Mobley

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It’s easy to stay in Cal Poly’s isolated bubble of green lawns and flowering plants. It’s easy to forget we’re in a drought.

Or maybe it’s just easy to turn a blind eye.

Assistant sociology professor Ryan Alaniz has set out to change that.

With help from sociology senior Eloise Armour, Alaniz is planning the United Nations University Summit, which will take place at Cal Poly Oct. 5-10, 2015.

“The United Nations University Summit is a gathering of international scholars and specialists to mitigate the drought here in California. It will implement the Learn By Doing philosophy here at Cal Poly. It will be with local faculty, local students and it’s going to the best and the brightest minds to fight the drought here in California,” Armour said.

There are various United Nations Universities (UNU); the one centered in Bonn Germany is the Institute of Environment and Human Security (IEH).

According to Alaniz, he was selected as one of 25 scholars from around the world to be a part of a “resilience academy” put on by IEH, he said.

They met to talk about issues regarding disaster resilience, especially the idea of livelihood resilience. They have written peer reviews and come up with research agendas regarding these topics, he said.

“I thought it was so successful, these resilience academies, these new colleagues and networks of scholars, that I thought it would be a great opportunity to look at drought in California,” Alaniz said.

He wanted to bring these scholars who have expertise in various areas to all come together, meet with Cal Poly faculty, meet with state representatives, discuss the drought and perhaps come up with some new research agendas, he said.

“My hope is by bringing in these scholars from around the world, that we will have a better understanding of how the drought is affecting us in California and how we can address it more effectively moving forward,” Alaniz said.

These 25 scholars are coming from places such as Bangladesh, Honduras, Germany and Australia and they will be addressing strategies to implement at both a local and statewide level, Armour said.

The summit will take place over the span of six days and each day will consist of different events. On the first day, Cal Poly faculty, other state representatives and possibly indigenous leaders will lead discussions on the drought to bring everyone onto the same page. On the second day, UN scholars will present their work and discuss how it sheds light on the drought.

“Additionally, we will have a student conference that parallels the summit. So throughout the week, students will have the opportunity both to not only listen to the presentations, but we’re planning on having poster presentations, an awareness campaign, a Q&A with the scholars, and also a luncheon where students who are interested, can sign up before and have lunch with the scholars,” Alaniz said.

They will be taking the scholars on “field trips” to visit a vineyard, farm and reservoir in San Luis Obispo, where they can see the actual effects of the drought, Armour said.

“We want them to talk to local farmers and vineyard owners to see what the drought means. It’s not just some concept to think about, this is something that impacts people on a daily basis. So we want them to Learn By Doing, learn by seeing, just like everybody at Cal Poly,” she said.

There will be time allotted for only scholars and local faculty to have workshops to work together — at which time parallel student events have been scheduled, Armour said.

Various Cal Poly clubs such as Poly Permaculture, Engineers Without Boarders and the feminist club Triota will be doing poster presentations. There will be time for the scholars to work with them as well, she said.

“My goal is to have Cal Poly be a flagship university in addressing drought,” Alaniz said. “So I want us to not just accept Governor Brown’s mandate to cut our water use by 21 percent, I want Cal Poly to cut it by 30 percent.”

The 30 percent cut is a goal for Alaniz and Armour.

“We’re in the worst drought in 1200 years. For all current estimates, this is not going away. This is very, very significant. In my mind, either we make choices that are difficult now to deal with this drought or we wait down the line and have to make even harder choices about how we use water and how we deal with this drought so I would much rather us get ahead of the curve by making good choices now,” Alaniz said.

At first, Armour had signed onto the project just to help with fundraising. But as she learned more about it, she realized that it was of the “utmost importance” and that she had a passion for it. She has now made it her senior project and will be returning for the conference as a graduate student assistant, she said.

Alaniz thinks a fellow faculty member (who deals with campus landscaping) said it well, “Cal Poly isn’t in a drought; the state is in a drought.”

“As you walk around campus, there is no sign that we’re in a drought,” Alaniz said. “The lawns are still green, the trees and ornamental flowers and such are still really beautiful. So we are, in many ways, I guess denying that there’s a drought.”

Alaniz believes Cal Poly students are some of the best students in California. He thinks this is a great opportunity to put it on us to see what creative and innovative ideas students can come up with to conserve water, he said.

“No CSU in history as far as I can tell has worked this closely with the United Nations University. So this is a historic opportunity to put Cal Poly, not just as a flagship state institution, but as a legitimate international institution doing some really progressive things in terms of disaster or drought resilience. So I think it could be a really big PR opportunity for Cal Poly if we choose to make it so,” Alaniz said.

All six colleges have donated to the summit, which makes this an interdisciplinary initiative, Alaniz said. The drought affects everyone.

“You hear it all the time, but students are the future of this country, the future of this state. And there is nobody that should be more concerned about the drought than students here. We are the ones that are going to be in charge of finding solutions,” Armour said.

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