Professor of Environmental Studies and Physics Brian Stewart is holding two “Earth Week Rants” in recognition of Earth Day on April 22. This year will be the tenth anniversary of his rants, which inform Wesleyan students and community members about climate change and challenge them to think about ways in which they can counteract it. The theme of this year’s rant is #notnormal: understanding change and demanding action.
The Facebook page for the event provides a preview of the discussion.
“Everything is up in the air these days,” the page reads. “The answers to basic questions seem up for grabs. We are not sure whom to trust, doubting the pronouncements of politicians, journalists, and scientists. In short, we find ourselves in a situation that feels abnormal, wishing for a normalcy (real or imagined) of either the recent or the not-so-recent past. Why is this an abnormal age? Is normalcy just around the corner, or are we on the cusp of an even more abnormal future? Professor of physics, Brian Stewart, will argue that a surprisingly simple, nature-oriented way of organizing the information that deluges us can help us to make decisions as we navigate a murky future. The body politic is awakening from a long slumber just in time to internalize this nature-centric approach and to demand a like awareness on the part of its elected representatives.”
In an email conversation with The Argus, Professor Stewart commented on why he created this event ten years ago.
“I was surprised and disappointed that there were not regular presentations about the overall environmental picture for a general audience that could motivate people to support (and now demand) changes that would make society more sustainable,” said Stewart. “Some of my colleagues could do a better job than I can, but they are busy contributing through their own research efforts, so I am trying to pitch in.”
Asked if the topics he discusses have changed in the past ten years, Professor Stewart said that they have not evolved as much as they have grown in magnitude.
“The issues have barely changed, but I have learned a lot about them and have a more subtle understanding of what we are up against (which makes them harder to talk about),” Stewart said. “Meanwhile, the problems have grown every year (which makes them harder to talk about).”
Professor Stewart also spoke about how climate change awareness has changed in the past ten years. While he has seen some urgent environmental problems being addressed, he expressed uncertainty about what stance the Trump administration would take on climate policy.
“It remains to be seen what the administration’s about-face on climate policy means in the long run,” Stewart said. “Maybe it will help us by making people realize that they can’t leave the matter to our politicians. Maybe it will doom us. Maybe it will be irrelevant as the rest of the world carries out a genuine sustainability agenda (but I am not holding my breath).”
He thinks the most pressing environmental issue has been and will continue to be the human footprint and its unsustainability.
Noah Kahan ’19, who is taking Professor Stewart’s Science of Sustainability class this semester, expressed his motivation for attending the rant.
“The reason I want to attend the rant is because even though I’m in his class…I have not seen Professor Stewart literally rant about this country’s inaction on climate change as well as our country’s fossil fuel energy infrastructure,” Kahan said. “I’m looking forward to this rant because I don’t know what exactly he is going to talk about. I do hope though he discusses Wesleyan’s energy infrastructure and as a member of the faculty, I hope he does talk to students about ways in which they can help Wesleyan lower its carbon emissions.”