NAU grad program trains students to 'go green'

2011-05-10T05:15:00Z NAU grad program trains students to 'go green'CYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
May 10, 2011 5:15 am  • 

Let's say a person wanted to get from Williams to the Grand Canyon, and wanted to consider their footprint on Earth before all other factors.

Would it be better to take a personal vehicle or the train?

Even if the car goes more than 30 miles on a gallon of gas and has multiple occupants, joining the more than 200,000 people a year who ride the Grand Canyon Railway would release far less greenhouse gases, four Northern Arizona University masters students found.

"No matter which way you slice it ... the Grand Canyon Railway appears to be a cleaner way to travel when you're going to Grand Canyon National Park," Chase Waddell and three other students found.

This is NAU's first graduate class to weigh these kinds of questions in order to learn how to answer them for governments, businesses and nonprofits.

Other students weighed the greenhouse gas emissions from a hotel and a bank, measuring the gases that are likely to persist in the atmosphere or have the biggest heat-trapping qualities.

The businesses opened their books and travel logs to the researchers; in return, they received suggestions about how to trim some expenses, including their electric bills.

The Northern Arizona University Master's of Science in Climate Science and Solutions Program, as it's called, is a federally backed professional degree.

"I have a hunch that measuring and accounting for all sorts of outputs and effects of industry will become a significant industry," in countering climate change, stated Timothy S. Clark, an assistant management professor in NAU's business college.

"Its development may play much like the boom in the 'new' field of financial accounting in the 1930s, which was just as vague, and supposedly unnecessary, until the Great Depression prompted the (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) and other forms of institutionalization into a proper, standardized profession," Clark wrote in an e-mail.

The head of NAU's sustainability caucus agreed, estimating interest would substantially grow if greenhouse gases are someday capped and regulated in the United States.

"Sustainability reporting has become standard practice in many corporations -- nearly all S&P 100 companies report some sustainability information, with two-thirds of them producing sustainability reports with performance metrics," stated Shelley Silbert. "Cities, counties, universities, military bases, and many other public agencies now hire sustainability managers who are responsible for tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions ... At some point, when a price is placed on carbon, I believe this job sector will explode, and we need graduates who are ready to kick into action."


NAU biologist Bruce Hungate studies how plants respond to climate change, as part of a national center for the study of climate change housed at NAU.

These students are highly sought, he said.

"We've already had inquiries from potential employers around the country, from government, nonprofit and private sectors," Hungate said.

Annikki Chamberlain wants to use the degree as a consultant to help organizations find the truly most efficient ways to cut emissions.

Waddell was working for a county air quality district but now believes organizations that typically move faster than governments have to take the lead.

Erin Henry has a biology degree and a master's in anthropology, and is now seeking a second master's degree.

Nevin Kohler is a former library assistant from California who moved to Flagstaff for this program after being laid off.

He became interested in climate change in his mid-20s after hiking on a receding glacier and pondering all of the people who may someday run short on drinking water for reasons like these.

"I think that climate change is the biggest challenge that the world is facing right now, and I just wanted to do something that made a difference," he said.

He'll spend the summer helping crunch numbers for researchers who attempt to measure all of the carbon dioxide in North America.


"This adaptation to climate change is going to be a little bit expensive," Chamberlain said in introducing the research projects to a group of researchers and explaining global projections.

But in taking action, Grand Canyon Railway (owned by Xanterra Parks and Resorts) has found just the opposite.

On top of multiple recycling, carpool and solar-energy projects, the railway recently traded out diesel engines in its trains and banned having the engines run when they weren't going anywhere, said Morgan O'Connor, the head of environmental affairs for the business locally.

These changes cut the railway's top source of emissions greatly, and its fuel bill by about half.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at

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