'Paris to Pittsburgh' Geosciences hosts climate change panel

Category:  News
Thursday, April 25th, 2019 at 2:13 PM

A full house was in attendance in Compton Hall’s 107A on Earth Day for the showing of a new documentary, and subsequent discussion, about climate change.  

Moderated by geosciences professor Dr. Baher Ghosheha panel of geosciences professors screened the 2018 documentary “Paris to Pittsburgh,” a detailed account of the efforts of Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, along with countless other cities, to combat the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

According to the website for the United Nations, the goal of the agreement, with the signed support of 195 countries, is: “The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and for the first time brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort. 

The United States, however, will withdraw from the agreement around 2020 on the orders of President Trump, who said in a tweet in 2017, “I was elected by voters of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”  

Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto responded, “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy and future.” 

The efforts of Pittsburgh and many other parts of the United States were detailed in the documentary, as well as different aspects of climate change that can be remedied by immediate action. 

After watching a portion of the documentary, Dr. Ghosheh opened up the floor to three professors in the geosciences department to give brief remarks from their experience in the field and research. The professors were Dr. Kerry Moyer, Dr. Laurie Parendes and Dr. Karen Eisenhart 

Dr. Moyer, who has his undergraduate and graduate degrees in meteorology from Penn State University, has been at Edinboro for over 20 years, focused his talk on the causes of global warming.  

He first mentioned that the earth is currently increased its average global temperature about 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 140 years, which, while it may not sound like much of a difference, is ultimately a significant change for a planet to go through. 

To find out why, he went over the natural mechanisms that affect warming, such as the sun. While the sun has increased its energy output gradually over time, Moyer acknowledged that it is a factor that isn’t enough to significantly affect the warming earth has experiences.  

Volcanic eruptions are another cause of temperature difference, but instead, they tend to cool the earth. Moyer explained that this occurs because when there is a large vertical eruption, particles and soot are shot up into the atmosphere, which has a cooling effect in the short-term time span afterward. 

He also mentioned the oscillations and fluctuations in the ocean, such as El Niño, that can cause rapid cooling or rapid warming over the course of several years. He explained, however, that this is still not enough to solely change the climate. “We don’t know of any oscillation in the atmosphere or ocean that will explain the long-term global warming that we’ve been experiencing,” he said. 

Moyer moved on to the effect greenhouse gases have on warming. Citing the burning of fossil fuels as a major source of emissions, the number of gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides in the atmosphere have steadily gone up since the Industrial Revolution. This isn’t a coincidence, explained Moyer, because this is the same time span in which the average global temperature has risen 2 degrees. 

Moyer concluded his remarks by reminding the audience that four of the warmest years on record are 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, with the warmest being 2016 (this is likely because of the El Niño occurring at the time). 

The next panelist was Dr. Laurie Parendes, who has been at Edinboro since 1999 after receiving her PhD in geography from Oregon State University.  

Her remarks focused more on the perspective of ethics in deciding how to deal with the climate change the earth is experiencing. She began, “I think we have a fairly strong foundation in the science… but an ethical question is, ‘What should we do about it?’ ‘What is the right action?’” 

She explained three broad challenges the world must consider when trying to take the right action in this matter.  

The first was the notion that this is a global issue that affects all of us. For this notion, she referred to the concept of the global commons. Generally defined as the earth's unowned natural resourcesParendes said, “Nobody really owns the atmosphere, it’s something that we have collectively.” 

By extension, she pointed out that while the larger, more industrialized countries are the leaders in greenhouse gas emissions, the “less developed countries may be feeling the impacts first,” according to Parendes 

The second challenge is that any decision made will have intergenerational effects. She explained, “Decisions that we make today may affect generations that are yet unborn.” 

Her final challenge was this: how do we define our responsibility to the environment? 

To consider this, she brought up the concept of justice, which, in this context, she defined as, “Fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people that are affected.” 

While these are indeed broad challenges to accomplish, Parendes ended her remarks by noting that there are no easy answers for such a monumental issue as climate change. 

The final panelist was Dr. Karen Eisenhart, who spoke more of possible solutions that could be undertaken to remedy these difficult questions.  

She mentioned the use of renewable energy and resources, such as solar and wind power, that could be used immediately to cut down emissions.  

She also brought up the large amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that could be cleaned and purified with the process of photosynthesis in plants. Therefore, the suggested afforestation and reforestation to restore the plant life that has been depleting over the years. 

Overall, she stressed the concept of drawdown, which she said is the point where greenhouse gas emissions will finally level out and start to decline.  

While it would be difficult to come to a consensus, Eisenhart concluded: “The first thing we need to do is get the majority of people in our darn country to acknowledge that global warming is happening, that it’s a problem in the first place, and then we can start planning within our communities.”  

If the people do that, she suggested that, from there, the people can apply pressure to the government to act on these issues.  

The event ended with the conclusion of the documentary, which ended with a call-to-action to take preventive measures to stop climate change, one step at a time. 

Nathan Brennan | ae.spectator@gmail.com

Tags: earth day

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