Skip to main content




Sept. 28, 2012
CONTACT: K. E. Schwab

Burkhart talk stimulates 'green' ideas

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In an address that literally covered the world, Patrick Burkhart, Slippery Rock University professor of geography, geology and the environment, presented "Protecting the World's Resources: A Common Responsibility" Tuesday as part of the University's weeklong celebration of the inauguration of Cheryl Norton as president.

Norton's formal installation as president is at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 28, in an outdoor ceremony on the Quad. As part of the week's activities three symposia were presented addressing the theme "Embracing the Challenge: Excellence, innovation and responsible citizenship."

Burkhart, who joined the SRU faculty in 1998 and is president of the SRU chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty, showed the audience a series of slides depicting environment problems currently being encountered worldwide and told the Smith Student Center audience, "Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better." He was quoting Dr. Seuss' "The LORAX"

Burkhart shared the stage with Julie Snow, SRU associate professor of geography, geology and the environment, who discussed what the the University is doing in the area of sustainability and improving the campus environment.

Burkhart opened his lecture by describing his life as a geologist, and then recounted the numerous experiences he said caused him to have a "deep environmental ethic."

He showed slides depicting a variety of his students who have participated in on-site field trips to Newfoundland, Canada, Alaska and the Badlands of South Dakota. He has also led student geology trips to Oregon and Washington, among other states, and said his personal interest in Charles Darwin have taken him to Argentina and Chile.

The address "was really an encapsulation of a course called 'Environmental Geology' that I have been teaching my whole career at a number of different institutions. But more than that, I realized this is really 'Patrick's Manifesto,' of my life. It really encapsulates the values I hold dearest. It also tells how I came to hold the values that I do based on the experiences of my life."

He included his candid assessments of the Earth's future and the health of its ecosystems.

Burkhart, who created the SRU Symposium for Student Research and Scholarship and its publication, The Journal of Scholarly Endeavor, also cited a number of steps the University has undertaken to increase its efficient use of resources.

Through a variety of slides and short videos, Burkhart showed how student interest in the planets' environmental issues and history is expanding. On the field trips, students were able to see how the earth developed and changed over time. There were also slides from a Burkhart-co-led trip to Louisiana following the Gulf Oil Spill to see firsthand how the crude oil was affecting plants, water, animals - and humans. Tamra Schiappa, asssociate professor of geography, geology and the environment, and Snow also guided that trip.

He credited his own interest in the environment and nature to joining a Boy Scout troop near his home that expanded his interest in the outdoors through monthly camping trips.

His interests have taken him to kayaking with toothed whales, porpoises, and, on one recent trip with his daughter, a school of sharks. "We were close enough to poke them with our paddles. By the way, I love being on a planet where once in a while people get eaten...but I don't want it to be me, and I don't want to have to tell my wife it was our daughter."

"I recently took an expedition to Canada, I passionately love the isle of Newfoundland and I try to do a good job in ATS [Advanced Technology and Science Hall], but is not the same as being out in the field. The very finest teaching I think I have done is in environments such as this," he said, while showing slides of the expedition.

He touched on a variety of environmental issues being faced around the world, including work in Costa Rica dealing with country-to-country arguments related to sedimentation seen in rivers that involve two or more countries.

In discussing coral reefs, Burkhart said 10 percent of earth's coral reefs are already damaged beyond recovery in the foreseeable future; 30 percent are in critical condition and may die in 10 to 20 years; and 60 percent of the world's coral reefs may die by 2050. He said the damage is due to bleaching, the killing of symbiotic algae that give the coral its characteristic colors. "Bleaching is due to increasingly warm temperatures, as well as pollution," he said.

Environmental projections for the 21st-century released in 2007 predict that cold days and nights will be warmer and less frequent; hot days and nights will be warmer and more frequent; carbon dioxide and other chemicals will rise to the highest levels in 10,000 years and carbon dioxide rises will be double present concentrations, he said. Global temperatures, he said, are predicted to rise 1.5 degrees centigrade and up to 4.5 degrees centigrade.

He said, "2012 is well on its way to being the warmest year recorded" and "2012 was the 36th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th-century average. The global land surface temperatures for 2012 were tied for the second warmest on record at 1.73 degrees Fahrenheit," he said.

Snow, who joined the University faculty in 2004, outlined a number of campus initiatives that have been successful in improving SRU's environment. Snow serves on the President's Commission on Sustainability, which serves as the umbrella organization for all sustainability initiatives on campus and works to promote and facilitate the cooperative efforts of faculty, staff, students and staff to educate, develop values, share knowledge, and create a culture of sustainability across campus.

She said energy consumption had decreased nearly 50 percent through education and the installation of energy efficient/conservation buildings and related energy controls. She also credited faculty, staff and students for being aware of the issue and lending support.

Snow said SRU had improved from Bronze to Silver status in ranking by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System - STARS, adding, "No building construction or renovation project is undertaken at SRU without considering energy efficiency."

Installation of on-demand lighting in hallways and encouraging faculty and staff to turn off unnecessary lights has provided significant savings, as have the use of heating controls to better balance heating and cooling in campus buildings, she said.

Snow urged students to take the SRU "Energy Pledge," a program that encourages students to help reduce SRU's carbon footprint. "Small steps can lead to big payoffs," she said.

The Energy Pledge program asks students to choose three items from a pre-set list of pledge options such as turning out lights and using nature daylight whenever possible, unplugging chargers and appliances when not in use, and powering down computers at night, among others as part of their efforts.

The pledge program continues all-year long, Snow said.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.