The New Climate Story Challenge

graph titled one year of CO2, daily and weekly means at Mauna Loa.

October 2017 to October 2018. Too high an emission rate, or too little vegetation?

"If you want to make small changes, you can change the way you DO things. If you want to make MAJOR changes, you have to change the way you SEE things."                                    Gabe Brown- attributed to Don Campbell

Project context

How do you explain Climate Change? What is the root cause and path to remediation?

Regardless of your background or expertise, you will likely point to Greenhouse Gas Emission. This understanding gained credibility in April  1979, when the Jason’s, “A mysterious coterie of elite scientists” published “The Long-Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate”

The Jason’s had history behind them. In 1862 John Tyndall discovered greenhouse gases, and how they create the greenhouse effect. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius suggested that burning coal and petroleum products would raise the world’s temperature. His warning was largely ignored until the 1940s when Guy Steward Callendar reiterated it.  In 1958  Charles Keeling began monitoring CO2 levels in Hawaii and the South Pole, documenting a consistent sawtooth rise. 

The association between greenhouse gas and Climate Change was solidified in July 1979 when Jimmy Carter commissioned the National Academy  of Science to review the Jason Report to provide recommendations for government policy.. The Charney Report “Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment” provided what amounted to, government confirmation of the Jason’s findings. This story continues to guide policy ,education, and advocacy. 

While the Jason and Charney reports were accepted as proof that greenhouse gases cause climate change, what subject matter did they cover? Reread the titles if you are not clear. Did they consider alternative possibilities, or the ramifications of development and ecological damage? Greenhouse Gases are not the whole story. They are like the lid on the boiling pot. Is it more important to remove the lid, or turn down the heat?

To fully understand climate disruption and how to reverse it, we must explore the properties of energy and heat. This begins with the first law of thermodynamics that states energy can change form, but never completely vanishes.

When solar energy strikes vegetation, the majority converts into chemical bonds that promote growth and transpire water, causing cooling. When it strikes anything other than vegetation, it converts into heat. With hundreds of millions of acres of bare ground in agriculture and more being created daily by deforestation, aridification, wildfires, open-pit mining, mountaintop removal, construction, erosion and receding glaciers, you can begin to see why our environment is warming. . 

And the hard materials of paving and construction generate more heat, getting hotter and storing more heat than bare soil. In urban areas with buildings in close proximity, heat is radiated between building surfaces, very similar to how it is trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. These “urban heat islands” experience higher temperatures than outlying areas, and many times the greenhouse effect. Between 1800 and 2000, urban development increased more than 100 times faster than greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Devegetation, development and thermal pollution have created a planetary heat island, a heat planet.

When we recognize the  actual cause of warming, we find a hopeful future. We can reverse warming at the source, more completely, locally, and rapidly, in months, years or maybe decades, not centuries. By reducing bare ground, hard surfaces and thermal pollution,increasing vegetation and restoring water cycles we can reduce both the heat source and the trapped portion, which is the greenhouse effect.

Project opportunities

While epic in importance, this new Climate Change Story is difficult to tell. This is where the challenge comes in. To be effective, the full climate story must be translated and adapted for diverse audiences in ways that are compelling and practical. This will take new voices and perspectives, new formats and genres of writing and communicating.

We invite UB and SUNY students to translate and create for any and all audiences. We welcome graphic novels, art, multimedia, music, theater, dance; stories for children, students, adults- stories that help us understand the relationship between heat and climate change, of the environment we create and the planet we inhabit, stories that inspire us and move us to individual and collective action.

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment Variable
Start time Fall, Spring, Summer
Level of collaboration Variable
Benefits Digital Badge
Who is eligible Students of all backgrounds and majors invited to apply

Core partners

  • Christopher A. Haines

AIA, NCARB, Architect, Urbanist / Biodiversity Specialist

Project mentor

Mara Huber

Associate Dean, Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning; Director, Experiential Learning Network

127 Capen Hall

Phone: (716) 829-2834


SUNY SDG Project Challenge

This project is for students interested in the SUNY SDG Project Challenge.

Express Interest

  1. Email ELN with letter of interest at to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to send this email)
  2. After you send your email expressing your interest, click the button to schedule a meeting to discuss the project. (Please be sure to include your letter of interest when scheduling the event)


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