Main Hall, Randolph College

Main Hall at Randolph College on Rivermont Avenue.

With the aid of summer student research, Randolph College is working on a plan to keep Lynchburg communities strong and steadfast in the face of predicted climate change.

Two students, rising juniors Arnav Upadhyay and Shataaxi Joshi, are presenting research they’ve gathered on climate resilience locally at the college’s Summer Research Symposium on Friday, alongside 15 other Randolph students who’ve been working on different research projects. Upadhyay and Joshi’s work will contribute toward the college’s continuing Climate Action Plan.

Randolph College pledged Second Nature’s Resilience Commitment in January, already having signed what’s now the President’s Climate Commitment in 2006. Second Nature is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit focusing on sustainability in college campuses.

The Resilience Commitment binds campuses to develop a Climate Action Plan with set deadlines and steps in community engagement. Within a year of implementation, it requires formation of a campus-community task force — a goal Randolph is envisioning as a group of Lynchburg community stakeholders involved in transportation, utilities and other sectors. By next spring, the college hopes to develop a workshop it’ll host for those community stakeholders, getting feedback and input from them to hone goals in improving community resilience.

Randolph College President Bradley Bateman also signed the climate declaration “We Are Still In” at the beginning of June. That declaration commits signatories representing businesses, institutions of higher education, states and localities to the Paris climate agreement despite President Donald Trump’s announcement the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement.

"The future of the College, as well as the world, depends on a collective effort to reduce our carbon footprint and make the planet a better, cleaner place," Bateman stated in a news release at the time.

Karin Warren, Herzog Family chair of Environmental Studies and professor at the college, and Sara Woodward, sustainability coordinator and alumna of the college, have been working with the students on their summer research. Titled “Resilient Randolph: Analyzing Risks and Establishing Measurable Strategies for Campus-Community Climate Resilience,” the project lays the groundwork for the plan outlined in the Resilience Commitment.

While the Climate Commitment focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emission and reaching carbon neutrality, the Resilience Commitment deals more with softening the impacts of climate change on the campus and the community.

“Resiliency is more like how a system … our school, our community, is able to adapt, mitigate and bounce back to something it previously was before some external force kind of changed it around,” Upadhyay said. “So in terms of climate resiliency, based on research we’ve done so far, Lynchburg’s going to be facing problems of more extreme temperatures, heat waves for longer periods of time; there’s going to be more precipitation during storms.

“Stuff like that is obviously going to affect our demand for water, our demand for electricity, so what ultimately we’re trying to do is come up with some sort of plan to help us mitigate or adapt to whatever changes that climate may have on us,” he continued.

Upadhyay has researched climate change data and weather patterns. He said he’s found within the next few decades, Lynchburg likely will see double the number of high-temperature days, which will cause a drain on electricity usage for heating and cooling.

Part of Joshi’s work has focused on reviewing how the city’s existing programs and plans already line up with goals for climate change resilience. For instance, Warren said the downtown utility and streetscape project that’s replacing old water pipes will help mitigate flood hazards and improve water quality.

“That’s our first step; to just see what’s already being done so that we can try to get an idea of what could be done to help the city be resilient in the face of the changes that are coming, that are already starting to happen in our community,” she said.

Both students have reviewed the city’s comprehensive plan, and Joshi has reviewed where both Randolph and Lynchburg have taken actions that aid resiliency and where there’s room to grow for both.

Though the city already works to mitigate runoff and flooding, Warren said climate change will aggravate that issue. Neighborhoods might consider improving resiliency by diversifying sources of power, using things like rooftop solar panels within the community. Increased peak demand for electricity during those extremely hot days could be mitigated by more efficiency across the grid.

Neither student is an environmental studies major or minor: Upadhyay is a business major, and Joshi is a psychology major. Upadhyay said he plans to continue taking environmental studies classes in order to better understand what could be in store in the future when it comes to a crossroad between the environment and economics. Joshi said though she’s devoted to her psychology studies, she was interested in localizing a project on climate change.

“You don’t have to be an environment major to know more about what’s going on in terms of environment,” she said.

Woodward said Randolph faculty and students already are attentive to food deserts and areas of poverty in the city — people and places that will be impacted more severely by climate change. One potential role Randolph could play in resiliency planning would be serving as a shelter for those affected populations.

Part of the students’ work includes a stakeholder document, outlining the future impacts of climate change on Lynchburg and the challenges those people can plan for.

“We’re just planning to engage all the stakeholders, plus the community in general and talk to them about why … building community resilience is important,” Joshi said.

“… The idea of this workshop is to bring together stakeholders who all have expertise and ideas from different segments of the community … getting their feedback, getting their advice on how we can look as a community, as an integrated whole and helping to plan,” Warren added.

Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek said that climate commitments like “We Are Still In,” signed by Randolph’s president and Governor Terry McAuliffe, are a reaction to what President Trump had declared and not something that the city would typically take part in.

Within the city, she said recent projects like the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and newer school buildings have been built to more sustainable standards, and officials want to make the streets as pedestrian friendly as possible.

“We do the best we can to be environmentally sensitive within common sense and boundaries,” she said, emphasizing the balance between the costs of being more environmentally responsive and the return on that investment.

Rick Barnes, professor of psychology and environmental studies at Randolph, has been on the college’s Sustainability Council since it was founded in 2002 as the Environmental Issues Council. He said the council’s mission has remained relatively constant, though the resiliency commitment adds focus to the element of protection against those future conditions.

“It’s more inclusive, I think — it avoids some of those arguments that people get into about the legitimacy of climate change … because we do need to be prepared for future changes of weather,” he said.

Through the group’s project, Barnes said Warren will be updating Randolph’s environmental sustainability plan and help the council to focus its sustainability efforts at the college.

After the students present their findings, Warren said the council will be working with interns and other students to help organize the workshop and communicate with stakeholders, aided by that stakeholder document. Upadhyay and Joshi also will present their research at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s October conference in San Antonio.

“We want to be of service to our community, and this is how we can do it,” Warren said.

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Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.

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