Four presenters spoke on the subject of “Global Climate Change and Vulnerabilities: A Perspective for the Future” at the Third Annual Robert Schumann Environmental Studies Symposium, held Saturday in the Exley Science Center.
“We are on an economic path that is environmentally not sustainable over the long term,” said Dr. Lester Brown, the president and founder of the nonprofit, interdisciplinary research organization Earth Policy Institute. As the day’s first presenter, Brown used his expertise to inform the audience of environmental threats to come.
Expanding deserts, rising seas, more intense heat waves and more destructive storms were among the environmental concerns Brown warned the audience of. He presented his vision for a new, environmentally conscious economy that would be powered by renewable sources of energy instead of fossil fuels.
Such economies are already beginning to emerge in many parts of the world, according to Brown. He noted the existence of wind farms that give electricity to 40 million Europeans, solar roofs in Japan that convert sunlight to electricity, and the 93 percent of homes in Iceland that are heated with geothermal energy. He concluded by advocating for political activism in support of these initiatives.
“Lester Brown made all of the climate change problems of our country seem really solvable, through positive movement and change,” said Josh Wood ’10, an Introduction to Environmental Studies student.
The next presenter, epidemiologist and independent consultant Dr. Kristie L. Ebi spoke about the relationship between climate change and human health. Ebi stated that the severity of health impacts from climate change will depend on humans’ capacity to adapt.
“We have a lot of challenges, but we can do it,” Ebi said. “There have been major advances in our ability to say what is going to happen with weather.”
She explained that because climate change cannot be totally avoided, adaptation is especially important in lessening the severity of the impacts of climate variability and extreme events.
Dr. Judith Curry, Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology spoke next on the link between global climate change and hurricanes. Curry pointed to a study that showed there has not necessarily been an increase in the actual number of hurricanes that occurred in recent years, but that there was a dramatic increase in the intensity of hurricanes that occurred, which could potentially be attributed to global warming.
Curry concluded by speaking of the need for positive change at the university level, from the state and local governments and from industries as well. She complimented the University for the steps it has taken to educate students about the impacts of climate change, including holding the Environmental Studies Symposium.
The last speaker was Dr. Alaka Wali, director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Ill. Wali’s presentation, “Apocalypse Now or Brave New World? Two Scenarios for Social and Cultural Responses to Global Warming,” took an anthropological view of climate change. She emphasized the importance of communities that sustain and nourish creativity.
“Creativity allows people to invent ingenious solutions to the problems that they face,” Wali said.
The symposium opened with a welcome from University President Doug Bennet and a brief address from Sally Smyth ’07. Both Bennet and Smyth spoke of the emphasis on environmental awareness on campus. Bennet noted the large numbers of non-science majors enrolling in environmental studies courses and the creation of the environmentally high-performing Fauver residences. Smyth remarked that the University’s community tends to push for change at the grass roots level, noting the large number of students who compost, grow food in the student garden, and recycle.
Professor of Economics Gary Yohe, who helped moderate the symposium, made the concluding remarks. All four speakers were then invited to participate in a panel and answer audience members’ questions.