By Rick Sobey
LOWELL -- It's time to act.
People must have a sense of urgency.
If that doesn't happen, the world will be in trouble.
A leading climate-change scientist shared these words with UMass Lowell students, faculty and community members on Wednesday, stressing that the effects of global warming have been known for a long time but political leaders have not stepped up to the plate.
Environmental leader Naomi Oreskes -- who advised Pope Francis on the climate-change policy he shared with President Barack Obama and Congress during his recent U.S. visit -- was the featured speaker at UMass Lowell's annual Climate Change Teach-In, which drew about 500 people.
"There's no more time to waste," said Oreskes, a science historian and geologist who was among the experts who met with Pope Francis last year to discuss the environment. The session laid the groundwork for his climate-change encyclical "On Care for Our Common Home," a letter delivered to all Roman Catholic bishops. The policy has been hailed as one of the most important papal documents of the last century.
"Global warming has been known for a long time," she emphasized. "It's not too late to do something meaningful, but we can't wait any longer."
Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt, said that for several decades, there have been scientific warning signs about global warming's negative impact; however, there was never serious political interest in taking action as many cast doubt on the scientific evidence, she said.
She pointed at a Washington, D.C. think-tank, George C. Marshall Institute, for denying the reality of global warming.
"They manufactured doubt to try to compete with global-warming facts, insisting that science is too uncertain to justify government action," Oreskes said. "People are still arguing about this when we should have been building solar panels decades ago.
"If we don't do anything, we're going to suffer," she added. "Not acting will be very, very expensive.
Extreme weather events, droughts, are all very costly, and will cause damage to people's lives."
As a result, Oreskes advocates for governmental involvement to address global warming, including a carbon tax, emissions trading, tax credits for renewables and public investment.
"We need more people like Naomi, educating people on climate change," said Caroline Cater, vice president of UMass Lowell's Student Environmental Alliance. "We need to take action now and save the environment."
Sustainability is a core commitment at the university, according to Rich Lemoine, UMass Lowell's executive director of administrative services, environmental and emergency management. The campus has a composting program, recycling program, electric cars, a bike-share program and more.
"We are dedicated to reaching our goal of climate neutrality by 2050," Lemoine said. "We're well on our way to achieving this goal, despite the university's growth over the years."
The Climate Change Teach-In was presented by UMass Lowell's Climate Change Initiative -- which brings together faculty, students and local leaders to address ways to improve the environment -- and faculty and staff behind the university's Climate Action Plan.
Both the initiative and the plan have inspired the UMass Lowell community to take action to achieve carbon neutrality on campus and throughout the region.
"There are great sustainability efforts going on here," Oreskes said. "It's exciting that Lowell is saying, 'We don't have to live in the past. We don't have to be committed to 19th century models of industry. We don't have to be committed to coal and oil and gas. We can build the economy of the future with 21st century technologies.' "