Last Friday, a small audience of students and faculty gathered in Tomsich Hall 101 to discuss a matter of international importance. The event, organized by Environmental Campus Organization (ECO) was a panel-based discussion meant to engage students in the fight against climate change.
Four professors led the discussion: Siobhan Fennessy, professor of environmental studies; Robert Alexander, professor of economics and environmental studies; Shawn Golding, professor of sociology; and Stephen Van Holde, professor of political science. Noelle O’Neal ’21 served as moderator.
Much of the discussion focused on climate change, but panelists also noted that climate change is not the only threat to the environment.
Fennessey mentioned her work with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a United Nations study on declining biodiversity and what it means for humanity. According to Fennessey, biodiversity hubs such as wetlands have an important role in insulating societies from natural disasters, but due to pollution and overdevelopment, these biomes are becoming smaller and smaller.
“Climate change is huge and big and making all kinds of trouble, but it’s not the cause of biodiversity loss at the moment,” Fennessey said. “And the loss of biodiversity is really just as critical to our survival as climate change is — and it’s getting far, far less attention.”
The presenters also discussed the role environmental issues will play in the future of global politics, particularly regarding the number of people who will be displaced because of climate change.
Van Holde said that while he doesn’t believe a pure “open borders” policy is feasible, governments will have to find some way to make their countries more accessible to climate refugees.
“By the middle of the century you’re talking about 200 million climate refugees or maybe more,” Van Holde said. “They’re coming one way or another, and unless they’re accommodated in one shape or form, there will be conflict.”
Following the presentation, audience members were given a chance to ask questions.
Dante Kanter ’21, who is features editor at the Collegian, gave voice to the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Should I panic?”
The answers varied. “How is your panic going to manifest?” Golding asked. “Could you harness it?” Alexander was optimistic that challenges like the ones we currently face could drive us to better our society. Everyone agreed that the most important thing was to not lose hope.
“It’s so big, it’s so hard and it’s so multifarious that it leaves us feeling completely and utterly paralyzed,” Van Holde said. “But there are things you can do locally, and they’re not unimportant,” he said.
“A lot of them are what we call ‘no regrets’ policies — things that make sense anyway. Why not have more fuel efficient cars? Why not engage in local political action? Although individually it doesn’t mean much, collectively, when a lot of people do it, it means it can be more [impactful].”
While the main purpose of the event was to increase awareness of environmental issues, ECO also hopes to raise interest in the Community for Climate Conference. The conference is an all-day event in which workshops and speakers from on and off campus will discuss issues of environmentalism and social justice. It is scheduled to take place on April 13.