Climate change panel raises awareness

Ryan Thompson

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library hosted a panel on climate science on March 3.

Four speakers gave presentations at the event, Kellis Bayless and Chris Hamilton, both professors at Washburn, as well as Moti Rieber and Amber Campbell Hibbs.

Hamilton, a professor of political science, focused his presentation on misinformation regarding climate science. He began by asking how many people in the audience believe tobacco causes cancer. Raised hands filled the room.

“Fifty years ago, I would not have seen many raised hands,” said Hamilton.

According to Hamilton, big oil companies are using the same multimillion-dollar campaign that tobacco companies once used to try to silence the scientific community. His presentation also drew attention to how little coverage environmental issues get in political debates and the media.

“[The Arctic Methane Release Threat] is not worthy of [American news] coverage, but it terrifies the rest of the world,” said Hamilton.

Hibbs, an anthropology and agronomy professor at Kansas State University, discussed attitudes toward climate change.  She explained that there is a lot of confusion about climate issues and people want to become informed, but are weary of whom to trust.

Hibbs pointed out that one of the major problems of working toward mitigating climate change is how easy it is for people to believe it is someone else’s problem and responsibility. She said that it is difficult for many people to accept that their own actions contribute to changes in climate.

Bayless, a lecturer of biology and the faculty sponsor of the Ecobods, gave a presentation that provided the bulk of the panel’s scientific data on how climate change will affect Kansas. He stated that even though climate change would cause more precipitation, more water would evaporate and lead to droughts. Climate change will also cause Kansas to have a decrease in tornadoes overall, but an increase in F5 tornadoes.

Rieber, rabbi and coordinator for Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, talked about the ethical concerns regarding climate change. Rebel told the audience that the countries which are the least responsible for climate change–commonly referred to as third-world countries–will be the most negatively affected by it.

Rieber argues that it is morally vital to create “a world where our wellbeing isn’t at the cost of someone else’s suffering.”

Despite the severity of these issues, the panel was not all doom and gloom.

“You get a lot of hair pulling,” said Rieber. “But I’m in the hope business.”

Rieber listed Pope Francis’ focus on climate change, the Paris Climate Conference and the economic decline of coal as reasons to stay hopeful.

Hamilton warns students against giving in to fear.

“I have a friend who defeated esophageal cancer because he wasn’t immobilized by fear and he sought out solutions,” said Hamilton. “This is what people need to do with climate change.”

Hamilton suggests supporting nonprofit organizations such as Rainforest Alliance and Heifer International as a way to make a difference. Eating locally when possible is another way students can help.

“Every imported piece of fruit that flies half way around the world on an airplane is burning huge amount of fuel to get here,” says Hamilton. “It might cost a little more, but you’re really cutting back on carbon if you just eat right.”

Bayless recommends people carpool and try to use less heating and air conditioning. When practical, he suggests opening curtains instead of turning on lights.

“Wherever possible, consume less,” said Bayless. “Your biggest impact is going to be on how you heat and cool yourself and how you transport yourself.”

Bayless encourages students who are interested in learning more about environmental issues to go to the websites of the IPCC, NASA and NOAA for their information, while avoiding popular press.

This fall, Hamilton and Bayless will be teaching courses on climate in public policy and human impact on the environment respectively. The human impact course will also available online and in the summer.

“Individual choices are what matter,” said Bayless. “You can make a difference. You don’t need to feel overwhelmed.”