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Environmental panel offers contrasting viewpoints from faculty

By web

Section: News

November 14, 2014

On Monday evening, Nov. 10, a panel composed of faculty from several different departments gathered in the International Lounge of Usdan to discuss climate change, how the world has responded to it and how the world needs to better prepare.

The panel, titled “The Good News on Climate Change: Brandeis and a World of Solutions,” offered points of view not often heard in mainstream media as well as advice for what students at Brandeis can do to make a difference.

The moderator of the panel, Philip Wight, a doctoral student from the Department of History, explained the unusual name of the event: “Climate change is an enormous problem, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity, and there is no shortage of creativity that we can employ to address the problem … we have the technology to solve this problem, and what we need to focus on is the social and the political will,” he said.

The panel itself was composed of six professors from all three schools at Brandeis: Sabine von Mering, an associate professor from the German and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies departments; Frank Lowenstein, who will be teaching “Land Conservation in a Crowded World” this spring; Judith Herzfeld, a professor of biophysical chemistry; Charles Chester, a guest lecturer who will be teaching “Atmospheric Civics and Diplomacy: World Politics of Air Pollution, Ozone Depletion, and Climate Change”; John Ballantine, a senior lecturer at the Brandeis International Business School who will be teaching the graduate course “Investing in Energy: Fossil Fuels to Cleaner Energy”; and Eric Olson, a senior lecturer at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

The panel began with the question, “Why is climate change so urgent to each of you?”

“As I’ve gotten more in depth with climate change, I’ve realized that, in my view, climate change is not particularly a threat to the natural world … but rather a threat … to society as we know it,” began Lowenstein. “The natural world may experience a mass extinction … but it will still be there, and over millions of years it will recover.”

Chester offered a contrasting point of view: “I do worry about the natural world. I spent a lot of time in my career in Yellowstone National Park and … for me, one of the most fundamental challenges I have … is what is Yellowstone going to look like in 50 years? It’s probably going to look very different than what it looks today. What in the world are we trying to protect today, in that case?”

Throughout the evening, Ballantine suggested a different perspective through which to view climate change. “I guess I look at climate change … through the perspectives of businesses and companies both in the United States and throughout the world … In the United States, energy companies have been in opposition to government intervention … and then you look at the differences in Northern Europe and the energy companies there … in changing their perspective on how they look at energy and to what extent they invest in greener technology.”

Von Mering explained some of the changes already made by Germany. Germany and France have pledged $1 billion dollars to the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund to help developing and underdeveloped countries “leapfrog” the industrial age and move straight into the renewable age. “They’ve raised awareness about climate change for a long time,” von Mering commented about Germany’s environmental conversation. She mentioned they were “inspired, by the way, by American environmentalists … that young generation in the ’60s and ’70s really felt as if there is something looming over our heads, and we all know it, and we’re not doing anything about it, we’re responsible, we’re complicit.”

Building off of the theme of the power of the youngest generation, Herzfeld recollected, “You may not realize, recycling on Brandeis only happened because of students. The students were the ones who put them [the recycling bins] out.”

Olson offered one final piece of advice to the audience as well.

“You can vote. Vote as often as possible … become active in the political process … Ask what is not being taught at Brandeis … The primary thing that students can do is expand their own education … make some things much more mainstream than this conversation currently is,” he said.

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