Four folks share some of their thoughts on this daunting matter.
Dork Sahagian, Professor of Earth and Environmental Science at Lehigh University:
Two things to consider in meeting the challenge: mitigation and adaptation.
1. Mitigation is what we need to do to prevent undesirable things from happening. We need to stop (not just reduce) emissions of greenhouse gases so that we give the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems a chance to extract at least some of the carbon dioxide that we have emitted in to the atmosphere during the 20th century. PA has played a major role in carbon emissions. If PA were a country, it would be the 20th largest emitter in the world. This means we have to transition to sustainable energy sources, such as hydropower, wind, solar, and geothermal. Corn-derived ethanol is not a sustainable option, as it ends up burning more fossil fuels than we get from the ethanol.
2. Adaptation. Some impacts of climate change are be unavoidable, as the die has already been cast. For example, with more severe flooding due to greater variability and events in the different seasons (hurricanes in summer/fall; rain events in winter, etc.) zoning in our towns and cities will need to change. FEMA is already redrawing floodplain maps. We will need to move some economic base away from winter sports: skiing, snowmobiling, and that sort of thing will be on the wane. Certain fruit trees will be lost and, more importantly, dairy cows are expected to be less productive in warmer temperatures (dairy being PA’s largest agricultural industry). We need to do things to reduce the impact to our economy, safety, and environment.
Mary Armstrong, Professor of Women & Gender Studies and English at Lafayette College:
“Climate change” is woefully an inadequate term. It is never only “climate” and it is so much more than “change.” Because environmental issues and hierarchies of social power impact each other, the destruction of the climate means the amplification of injustice, oppression and social stratification both locally and globally. As the climate “changes,” social hierarchies of (dis)advantage—including those principally those organized around gender, class,racial/ethnic identity, and global position—grow. The destruction of the climate magnifies every injustice, damaging everyone but hurting the most vulnerable most of all.
Katelyn Armbruster, Student, Environmental Studies Program at Lehigh University:
The question of what needs to be done to meet the challenge of climate change is a stupid question, I think. We already know what needs to be done, but are we doing it? No, and that’s because we don’t have to deal (at least not right now) with the repercussions of an altered climate on a normal basis yet. We will slowly adapt and become more reliant on eco-communication. We will have to be in tune to what mother nature is telling us, and I think that’s a good thing. I think there is a problem with the question though. We are referring to this as a challenge. Climate change is the furthest thing from a challenge. What? Are we trying to beat climate change? To win at climate change? I think we are approaching this conflict from a completely wrong stance. Climate isn’t the challenge, we are. This isn’t about climate change, it’s about us. It’s about how children are raised, it’s about how we treat each other. It’s what we eat, and where we go, it’s what we buy and how we take what we already know and use it.
David Casagrande, Professor, Sociology and Anthropology and the Environmental Initiative, at Lehigh University:
Recognition of our impacts on the planet—climate change is one of many consequences of our actions—has the potential to shift our perspective and embrace our responsibilities. It will also result in political and economic conflict. Technology alone will not save us. We must save each other.
Pennsylvania could lead the path with its own comprehensive energy policy, but the fossil fuel industry controls a disproportionate amount of wealth and therefore our politics. Nothing will change without meaningful campaign finance reform, as well as a constitutional amendment stating corporations do not have same rights as people.
We are currently “outsourcing” most of the social and environmental costs of our comfortable lifestyles. We need to downscale and localize our economies. The Lehigh Valley could produce most of its own food with a fraction of current carbon emissions from importing it from overseas. What is holding us back is lack of vision and corporate control of the political process.
Personally, we purchase 100% PA wind power for our home. We have a few acres and grow as much of our own food as possible, and enter into relationships of reciprocity with other local producers. All our services, including banking, are local. I also spend a lot of my time advocating political reform, because top-down policy will not change otherwise.
(Published in the 2014 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)