Last Wednesday night, the Climate Ambassadors hosted a faculty panel discussing funding for the sciences and the importance of climate change issues in the current administration. Over forty students attended, and the two panelists were University professors: Joyce Powzyk, Assistant Professor of Practice in Biology, and Suzanne O’Connell, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Both professors started off the panel discussion with introducing themselves. O’Connell talked about her work with paleoclimate science in Antarctica, while Powzyk talked about her experiences in Madagascar and her work with lemurs. Powzyk also expanded on how climate change is affecting the Malagasy communities, and how she wanted to disseminate information about climate change and its possible negative effect on the lemurs through comic books.
The panel mainly consisted of an open Q&A session, during which any audience member could ask questions to the panelists. Both O’Connell and Powzyk emphasized the importance of the government focusing on climate change.
O’Connell also stated how climate change is an important security issue for the country, and that the government needs to shift focus toward this long-term issue. She also mentioned that there is a possibility of a two-feet sea level growth by the end of the century, which may affect U.S. national security as there are many naval bases in lower elevation areas.
“I think its short sighted for the government to increase security using the military…but climate change issues [are] irreparable,” O’Connell said.
In addition to security, climate change also has the potential to affect the economy in negative ways.
A student brought up a question about the newly launched 314 Action, a nonprofit that was founded by members of the STEM community, its supporters, and political activists. Among their other goals is increasing political activism amongst scientists. O’Connell talked about how the role of the scientist had evolved and it was now time for them to get more involved.
“Forty years ago, [scientists] would never think about going to congress or going to a march,” O’Connell said. “But now they’re all aware that we as scientists need to be out there to inform the public about things.”
Scientists now also receive skills builders for educating the public, including tips on how to write op-eds and do interviews.
Powzyk talked about her husband’s experience with being a scientist interested in getting involved politically, but could not run for office full-time because of restrictions he received from the University administration. As he would’ve lost possible grants and would not be able to work full-time if he ran for office, he decided instead to volunteer for a planning and zoning commission in Middletown.
Both panelists also gave advice on how to deal with climate change deniers. They also agreed that the term “climate change” has become so polarized that the term should be renamed. O’Connell discussed how the term used to be more widely thought of as global warming, but then people stated that they would like it warmer.
O’Connell also brought up an interview that Bill Nye did on Fox News about climate change, and in using that as an example, told the audience that they needed to bring in solid facts from scientists to these climate change deniers.
Another student in the audience then questioned how broadcast media has been portraying scientists, especially climate scientists, through a split screen.
“Scientists are equated with any Joe Schmoe who works at a climate change denial special interest political think tank, because they get fifty percent of the screen,” the student said. “It’s interesting how the concept of science has become politicized as a liberal/democrat oriented issue. Is there a way to bridge that divide and depoliticize climate change?”
Powzyk responded by focusing on education and the role that schools can play in increasing climate change awareness. Through focusing on the science, it can become less of a polarized issue. Powzyk also talked about a certain politician, wishing that he had gotten more education about climate science before choosing a political affiliation.
O’Connell talked about a personal experience when she was attending a Congressional Day for scientists several years ago. She witnessed a politician—upon seeing that his water glass wasn’t flowing over when the ice melted—saying that climate change wasn’t real.
“I don’t know if its deliberate ignorance, but it was one appalling statement after another,” O’Connell said.
As the talk took a more negative turn about the future, a student asked how to become heartened again.
“I write op-eds, I teach people like you,” O’Connell said, on how she keeps hope and works for environmental advocacy. “We can make this whole situation work when we put our minds to it. I don’t feel hopeless about it.”
Powzyk said that working in Madagascar with Malagasy kids has kept her heartened.
The talk ended with both panelists encouraging students that small actions for the environment on campus can really help. O’Connell also mentioned the impact that calling a politician can make. Powzyk also spoke on how she was disappointed at the lack of communication between people with different political affiliations.
“I need to invite more Republicans to dinner; I don’t like the fact that we’re not talking,” Powyzk said. “So you should all invite a Republican to dinner.”