The most recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report states that climate change is already having significant effects on land, bodies of water and lives all over the world. It is projected that droughts, heat waves and flooding will become more common and climate change threatens food and water security for many. The report also says that the stress caused by climate change could cause violent conflict. Climate change cannot be stopped, but we can adapt to its effects and avoid a “worst-case scenario” by aggressively cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.
How do scientists and other people who actively engage with the issue of climate change feel and think about it? The Snapper interviewed Dr. Kathy Schreiber of Millersville University’s geography department and Jim Sandoe, who has a granddaughter at Millersville and has been heavily involved in the Climate Reality Project and the Lancaster Citizens’ Climate Lobby since retiring a few years ago.
Snapper: Dr. Schreiber, what kind of research do you do?
Dr. Kathy Schreiber: My research has involved looking at impacts of climate and climate change on malaria. We were able to improve models of malaria transmission through our research. We were largely focused on Kenya.
Snapper: To what extent do you think scientists should involve themselves in the public discourse about climate change, what should be done to keep it from being catastrophic and how to mitigate for its effects?
KS: They should. And we need to learn how to do it effectively. This is a large issue with a significant impact and we need to engage the public. But scientists aren’t trained to talk to the public in an accessible way.
Jim Sandoe: They’re used to speaking to colleagues.
KS: The Union of Concerned Scientists has training courses now on how climate scientists can more effectively communicate with the public about climate change.
JS: That’s where I come in. In my work as part of the Climate Reality Project, I spend a lot of time reading research—I read Kathy’s and many other scientists’ work—and I try to take the conclusions and bring them to the public. I take the technical parts out; I want to get people interested in it so they have the desire to learn more about it.
Snapper: What’s it like to be part of the Climate Reality Project?
JS: The Climate Reality Project is a group of people who educate themselves on issues surrounding climate change and then give presentations on them. I do a lot of networking with people around the world—I have 600 Facebook friends and 500 of them are Climate Reality people. I probably average around 200 emails a day—people send me research. My friend in Sweden sends me Swedish stuff, a woman in Taiwan sends me research from there, and a lot of climate studies are coming out of Canada.
Snapper: It can be hard to read about climate change for emotional reasons—aside from the threats to human life and wellbeing, we are facing the fact that even the local landscape here is going to change. Many forms of life that are native to southeastern PA will no longer be able to survive here. Do you ever feel sad or afraid, knowing about the current and projected effects of climate change?
JS: Sure I do. Some of the reports are quite pessimistic. I think that for the most part, climate scientists try to be optimistic because what else can you do?
KS: The bottom line is, I realize that in the long run if we don’t address climate change, it’ll be all the worse. If we move quickly we can make a significant difference. And we need to raise awareness because so many people just don’t understand the gravity of the issue.
JS: Also, you have to look at the long-term. We’re looking at the middle of the century. We need to be at zero carbon emissions by 2050—drastic cuts need to start by 2020. The longer you wait, the steeper the cuts will need to be.
KS: The first global policy addressing the need to do something about climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was introduced in 1990 and we really have done very little since then in terms of formal global policy.
JS: We have basically waited 25 years and haven’t even gotten started yet.
KS: Although, there are local government entities doing things—the state of California, mayors who are reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in their towns, and municipal governments that are taking action.
Snapper: Has Millersville done anything to reduce emissions or educate people about climate change?
KS: I’m on the sustainability committee, and we feel that it is partly the responsibility of higher education to educate the public on climate change. We have had several speakers, including Michael Mann last fall. President Anderson recently signed the President’s Climate Commitment. We are trying to get greenhouse gas emissions at the university down. We have already reduced them significantly and ultimately want to reach carbon neutrality, but it may be decades into the future. Right now we have solar panels that we’re going to put on a building here on campus.
Snapper: How do you respond to someone who denies that climate change is real?
KS: In little matters, I just say let them think what they want to think, but this is too important for that response. I have a friend who doesn’t think climate change is real and all winter he never missed a chance to talk about how cold it was. When the annual global temperatures came out I sent them right to him.
JS: Australia, Argentina and South America got baked this year.
KS: The other thing is, there is science that suggests climate change may lead to colder winters.
JS: People tend to get weather mixed up with climate.
Snapper: What’s the difference between weather and climate?
KS: Climate is a large-scale system with multiple components that shape how we experience weather and the climate.
Snapper: What can students and others do to learn more about climate change and take action to spread awareness?
JS: Anyone can come to the next Lancaster Citizens’ Climate Lobby meeting, which will take place on April 5. Students should take advantage of being in school—ask your professors questions. Be aware of information that’s available and speakers that Millersville brings in. Also, the Climate Reality Project has a good website for debunking myths: it’s called RealityDrop.org. You can visit 350.org, which is a national organization. There are groups out there talking about it and there’s lots to learn. Also, Volume Two of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) will come out this week and there will be a lot of press about that. The third volume will come out in May—that one will focus on mitigation. There are also many different MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are free. Just search “climate change MOOC.”
Snapper: Should we be thinking about this as an apocalypse that could cut short our own lives?
KS: It’s not an apocalypse unless you don’t do anything about it. It’s a huge challenge but it’s one that can be won. We just have to get started.