A group of students gathered in Drew Hall on Howard University’s campus as Doctor Jeremy Richardson, physicist and climate change consultant, debunked common myths about climate change.
The discussion was organized by two campus outreach leaders, Howard’s General Assembly Chairman Kenneth Burnett and junior civil engineering major Jordan Rivers, representing the Alliance for Climate Protection.
The discussion was meant to help the audience members who filled Drew’s lounge to “think globally, act locally.” Dr. Richardson’s lecture would focus on the global impact of greenhouse gas emissions, while also addressing to what can be done by students and communities to address environmental degradation such as unsafe drinking water at a local level.
“Environmental issues are a hot topic right now, Rivers said, “Before you can organize or do anything involving social justice, you have to do your homework.”
Throughout his informal lecture, Dr. Richardson used a slideshow that former Vice President and Nobel-Prize winner Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth was based on.
In light of recent events such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the slideshow received updated information on events not included in Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary about global warming.
But Dr. Richardson did not agree with using the term “global warming” in regards of climate change.
“I don’t like use the term “global warming” as much as I like to use “global weirding”[sic],” he said, “You see a lot of weird things happening now.”
Recent extreme weather events exemplify global weirding and demonstrate the impact of climate change around the world – extreme flooding in Pakistan, heavier tropical storms impacting the Caribbean and Gulf Coast regions, and Snowmaggedon of 2010 that paralyzed the Mid-Atlantic reason last winter.
Although the polar bear has become a reoccurring symbol of environmental campaigns, Dr. Richardson highlighted the impact melting glaciers had on the lives of people.
People who live in mountainous region such as in Bolivia and near the Himalayas depend on the melting of mountain glaciers as a freshwater source. With climate change, the glaciers are melting faster than usual. If the glaciers continue to melt and disappear altogether, communities residing in these mountain regions will lose the primary freshwater source, Dr. Richardson said.
The importance of freshwater will likely increase over time as emerging countries struggle to find sources for clean-water, which are already low.
According to Illai Kenney, a senior telecommunications major and aspiring environmental lawyer, clean water will become as important to future generations as oil has been to past generations. Kenney also mentioned that the impact of rising sea levels effects major cities around the world, which are primarily located along the coast, as much as island nations.
“Communities of color are in coastal areas,” Kenney said, “We’re going to be the most impacted by environmental degradation. We have to be proactive.”
In Maldives and Tuvalu, the residents may become the first major case of “climate migrants” since both countries, which are barely above sea level, may disappear within a few years – Tuvalu within 30 to 50 years, according to Reuters .
The cause of their disappearance: rising sea levels due to warming ocean waters and melting glacial land masses.
On Yale Environment 360, science journalist Michael D. Lemonick writes that projected sea levels “could easily rise three to six feet this century” varying from region to region with some being more affected than others.
Bringing the climate debate closer to home, Dr. Richardson took special care to highlight the commonly-held belief in the U.S. that climate change is “too big to fix.”
Many American policymakers and congressional members have claimed that imposing harsher environmental regulations would be detrimental to the U.S. economy, which is still recovering from the Great Recession of 2008.
However, Dr. Richardson argued that profits for companies with higher environmental standards are not in the red but soaring.
From 2005 to 2008, eco-friendly car companies such as Toyota and Honda experienced an upswing in profits – 34 percent and 13 percent increase, respectively.
American automakers General Motors and Ford loss 33 percent and 49 percent of their profits, respectively, since their cars were less fuel efficient than their Japanese rivals – and neither offered a hybrid to rival Toyota’s Prius.
Dr. Richardson concluded his lecture by refuting climate skeptics’ major claim: there is no consensus among scientists about climate change. Dr. Richardson said that a majority of climate scientists have reached the same consensus: climate change is real.
However, that consensus is not unanimous as Dr. Richardson later mentioned his experience as member of the American Astronomical Society. Out of thousands of AAS members, two still believed that in the twentieth-first century the world was flat.
The Drew Hall lecture was not a one-time event and that more green events are upcoming, Rivers said. On Monday, November 21, the first hands-on green workshop will take place in the reading room of the engineering building at 4 p.m. The second workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at the same time, same place.
Both workshops will focus on helping students “green” their dorms among other ways of living a more sustainable lifestyle.
The Howard Environmental Society plans to hold a Green Summit on campus before the semester’s end, and Rivers’ “Green Tomorrow” student organization will also hold a round-table discussion on campus with prominent environmentalists next semester.