Lessons from a Pandemic
Maria Dietrich, Assistant Director, International Education,
Northampton Community College (NCC) students attended the annual Trottier Symposium, hosted by the Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED) at McGill University. This year’s talk, Lessons from a Pandemic: Solutions for Addressing the Climate Change Crisis, featured Dr. Naomi Oreskes, a geologist and Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, and Dr. Michael Mann, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.
Dr. Oreskes opened by establishing why we should trust science. We should trust science as a process of learning and discovery that is based on accumulated expertise and experience, is supported by evidence, and is reached by the consensus of experts. Her remarks were a direct counter to politics that reject scientific evidence. Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, she argued, prove that governments that trust science have been best positioned to address the pandemic---they have fewer cases, fewer deaths, all while mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic.
Dr. Mann’s remarks addressed what he calls the new climate war. In the face of scientific consensus and the well-documented link between human activity and the climate crisis, those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo have pivoted to dissimulation, deflection, and division, rather than outright denial. The increased occurrence of wildfires, super storms, and oppressive heat waves demonstrate that the effects of climate change are no longer subtle and cannot be doubted: they are already devastating our communities. Many challenges, however, are preventing effective climate action from happening. News coverage suggests that we are “past the point of no return”, leaving us feeling powerless to act. Additionally, attention is placed on actions that individuals can take (going vegan, driving or flying less), while ignoring the lack of accountability of private corporations and inaction of governments. These challenges deny science and deny our agency to act.
Following the symposium, Professor Anita Forrester, coordinator and lead faculty of NCC’s Global Studies program, and Nathan Carpenter, director of NCC’s Center for Global Education & International Services, facilitated a student discussion to process the speakers’ presentations. NCC students commented on possible solutions of a carbon tax or green energy incentives, the impact of individual versus collective mindsets, the importance of individuals changing their actions, and the power of governmental policy.
There is Still Hope
While the immensity of climate change can seem overwhelming, there is still hope. In 2019, carbon emissions flattened mainly due to the increasing use of renewable energy sources. Dr. Mann predicts that 2020’s carbon emissions will actually decrease by 4-5%. The COVID-19 pandemic has started conversations about the importance of resiliency and sustainability; it is crucial that we continue these conversations and action even after the pandemic subsides. The youth climate movement has emphasized that climate change is the greatest threat to our survival and has demanded solutions.
What We Can Do
Our individual actions matter, but we also need systemic changes to our policies so they achieve solutions to climate change. On the positive side, the public already supports climate action, and the technology and solutions for climate change already exist. Dr. Oreskes stressed that now we need political cooperation to create policies that align with the public’s interest. We must vote and hold our representatives accountable. Dr. Mann emphasized the necessity of urgency to take action and recognizing and using our agency.
You can join NCC’s Climate Action Network, Sustainability Committee, and attend NCC’s Peace & Social Justice Conference on October 13-15 to become engaged in the movement creating solutions to climate change.
- Maria Dietrich, Assistant Director, International Education