Dispatches from the Future
A View from Butte Hall
The professor sat in his office the night before graduation, grading papers. He hated grading; after twenty years in academia, that still hadn’t changed. The University, however, had changed dramatically over the past two decades, mostly in response to the shifting climate. The extreme heat—defined as the upper 98 percentile of the historical record and variable by region—was the most obvious change. The professor recalled the two-week extreme heat wave that melted the campus in September in 2021. Students from the cooler coastal towns of San Francisco or San Diego were not acclimated to the Central Valley; several students were hospitalized for heat-related illness. The University cancelled class for two days at the height of the heat wave and shut down most of the campus. The Library and the BMU remained open as planned, however, to act as cooling centers for students without air conditioning.
Climate disasters—fires, floods and deadly heat waves—had hit the state hard and disrupted the economy. As a result, fewer students graduated these days due to the exorbitant cost of attending college. That said, most who do will find employment quickly because of the need for skilled workers in newly established fields geared towards climate change-related solutions. Tomorrow night, the first students to graduate in Suburban Reclamation will cross the stage, the result of a new major jointly sponsored by the departments of Geography and Planning and Construction Management. Budget pressures and the changing job market encouraged such intercollege collaborations all across campus.
Such changing academic and institutional dynamics were not unique to Chico State. Many schools in the CSU faced similar hurdles and some had been forced to close. Chico State survived the challenge because it started planning for climate change early. The Cooling Centers, for example, were the result of a partnership between the University and the City in developing an extreme-heat-preparedness plan. There was also a ‘climate boot camp’ for new arrivals that got them ready for the hotter weather. Climate impacts are unavoidable, but by taking adaptive measures, Chico State has been able able to continue on, and in some ways thrive.
Yes, there had been many changes, but the campus community was still here because it had learned to adapt. Graduation ceremonies, for example, were now at night and indoors. The administration admitted to a trade-off between pageantry and intimacy, but the latter also came with air conditioning.
Climate change was inevitable. Adaptations like those made by Chico State, however, were the product of foresight and need. The university embraced the challenge of climate change and the creativity necessary to manage its effects. The benefits had been enjoyed by all, and a spirit of level-headed optimism now marked the campus community. The professor, too, had learned to adapt, even to grading. Now, where was that Pale Ale. . .?
-- Mark Stemen