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Global warming is happening right now, and humans are playing a major role in that warming. That’s the message imparted to the more than 250 people who gathered in Cumnock Auditorium on March 31 to hear a panel of climate and health experts, and civic and industry leaders discuss their views of the challenges and best approaches for mitigating the effects of climate change, starting here in New England. Called “A Vision for Addressing Climate Change,” the half-day event kicked off the weeklong festivities that marked the inauguration of Chancellor Marty Meehan.
In opening the event, Meehan, who was a strong advocate for combating global warming while he was in Congress, said the need for action is clear. “New England produces more carbon dioxide than most other countries,” he said, “so we’re clearly a significant part of the problem.” It is the University’s responsibility to “help understand the problem by conducting the scientific research and providing a forum for ideas and informed debate through teaching and engaging the public,” he said.
Secretary Ian Bowles of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs briefly summarized what the Commonwealth is doing to address global warming. He described the state’s greenhouse-gas emission initiative, its regulation of power plants, the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound and the incentives to industries and entrepreneurs, especially in the areas of solar and wind energy generation.
Panelists from UMass Lowell included Prof. Joel Tickner of the Department of Community Health and Sustainability and Asst. Prof. Mathew Barlow of the Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EEAS). Joining them were Howard Berke of Konarka Technologies, Alexander “Sandy” Taft of National Grid, Dana DeCosta of Vectrix Corp., and Rev. Fred Small of the Religious Witness for the Earth. WBZ-TV meteorologist Mish Michaels served as moderator. Questions for the panelists included topics such as identifying the most pressing problems, needed actions over both the short term and long term and decision making in the face of both real and perceived scientific uncertainty.
Barlow painted a grim picture on what is happening to the environment as global temperature continues to climb. In the summer of 2003, he said, Europe experienced a two-week period that was 10 degrees Celsius higher than normal. The resulting intense heat wave killed 35,000 people.
“This is one of the reasons why Europeans take climate change more seriously than we do,” said Barlow. In New England, he noted, rising temperatures are now affecting salmon migration and the production of maple syrup, with likely future impacts on lobster populations and cranberry farming. Increased rainfall associated with our changing climate also appears linked to severe flooding by the Merrimack River in 2006 and 2007, he said.
Tickner said global warming is exacerbating the local impact of air pollution, and vice versa. “We’ve seen a 160 percent increase in asthma cases in the U.S. over the past 20 years, both in morbidity and mortality,” he said. Rising temperatures have led not only to dramatic increases in pollens, molds, and other airborne allergens, but also in insect- and food-borne pathogens, he said.
“We need a new generation of leaders who understand the very complex problem of climate change,” said Tickner. “It’s not enough just knowing how bad the problems is; they also need to think about policies and technological solutions, while at the same time sustaining our country’s economic growth.”
Rev. Small said, “We need, as individuals, to take responsibility, to pursue simplicity in our lives. But that alone isn’t going to get us where we need to be. We need the government to be a government of goodwill, in which people of goodwill can be supported.” He added that “changing a light bulb [to a more energy-efficient one] is good; but changing a congressman is better.”
Berke reminded the audience that climate change is not only a global problem, but also a universal one. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican, a Democrat or Independent,” he said, “or Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Global warming is a problem that all of us face and that our present generation and future generations to come must confront and solve.”
In addition to the panel discussion, attendees viewed posters and product exhibits that showcased the latest research being done by the University on sustainable energy sources. They also had a chance to interact with private industry representatives from Areva, Azure Dynamics, Evergreen Solar, Konarka, Mass AREA, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, New England Breeze, New England Wood Pellets, Panel Pros, Recycline and Vectrix on “green” initiatives and solutions.
“The event was a great success,” says Prof. Arnold O’Brien, chair of the EEAS Department and one of the panel’s organizers. “It’s a fitting tribute to Chancellor Meehan’s goal of building a new vision for the future together.”
Visit UML's photo gallery to view an array of photos from the event.