Environmental journalist encourages political activism in climate change issues

Marlena Chertock

MARCH 10, 2011

Elizabeth Kolbert, a journalist for The New Yorker, spoke at Elon University on Thursday, March 10, 2011 about the future of food and climate change. She encouraged students and others to become politically active in this issue. Photo courtesy of The New Yorker.

Environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert described climate change, the future of the world’s food availability and encouraged students and others to become involved in this issue in a speech Thursday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. in McCrary Theatre.

Kolbert, who works on The New Yorker, defined climate change as anthropogenic, or human-induced. Carbon emissions, people not taking actions to reverse or lessen the problem and other human actions are contributing to climate change, according to Kolbert.

“The climate change problem can be overwhelming,” Kolbert said. “It’s very big, it’s global.”

But she also believes we have an obligation to do something about it, she said.

“What is it going to take to convince Americans to take this problem seriously?” Kolbert said. “Are we going to wait until there simply isn’t enough to eat?”

People should care about climate change and the future of food, according to Kolbert.

“Do they like to eat?” she said. “If their answer is yes, they should care about climate change.”

Agriculture is intimately tied to climate, according to Kolbert. Food can’t be grown where the temperatures are too hot or cold. Food prices are rising worldwide, she said.

“Probably some parts of the world will be helped, farming will get better and some will suffer,” Kolbert said. “People want to know more specific than that, what places will be affected. But science can only give approximations.”

Kolbert showed many scientific and data models that predict and offer approximations.

“Some of what I’m about to tell you could be wrong,” she said, referring to science’s subjectivity to change. “Some predictions could be wrong.”

Kolbert also explained that the arguments people sometimes use against climate change or global warming don’t hold up in science. People often want to debunk science or throw out the scientific evidence for climate change, she said.

“The argument can’t be a certain drought or flood was caused by global warming,” she said. “But people can say this is what you would expect in a warming world, these types of droughts and floods around the world.”

People can’t rely on their regional or personal experiences of the weather and average temperatures to reflect what’s happening globally, Kolbert said. If it’s a really cold, bitter winter in one person’s region and he questions global warming, that doesn’t hold true for the rest of the data collected from around the world, Kolbert said.

People have to look at large data sets, she said.

The data will show that 2010 was one of the warmest years to record, Kolbert said. All of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the last 12 years.

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

“It’s a lot easier to say there’s not a problem,” Kolbert said.

But she encouraged people to get politically involved in this issue that isn’t going away.

People are not taking their opinions and voices to the next step, they are not getting involved politically and need to be, according to Kolbert.

She spoke against putting the blame on others and making someone else figure out how to deal with the issue.

“I’m stepping out of my role as a journalist,” she said. “But into the role as a fellow inhabitant of the planet, as a mother.”

Allowing global warming and climate change to continue, without doing anything to prevent it, is not acceptable and doesn’t seem rational, according to Kolbert.

“I encourage all of you not just to throw up your hands, but to get involved,” she said. “On a personal, university and national level.”

Opinions don’t amount to anything unless a concerted, national effort is taken, she said.

“Until privileged Americans start taking action, I don’t see why anyone else on the planet would or should,” she said.

The U.S. is a major and perhaps the number one contributor to the problem, according to Kolbert. She showed a chart that listed the U.S. as the top contributor of carbon dioxide emissions.

The planet will not snap into a new routine, Kolbert said. If greenhouse gas levels continue to rise, the climate will keep changing and never reach a new equilibrium.

“I am not a farmer,” Kolbert said. “But I think if you talk to some people who are, they’ll say if you don’t get to predictability, agriculture is very hard.”

***

Elizabeth Kolbert talks about not relying on personal experiences with weather and temperatures to make opinions about global warming

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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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