By Samantha Snead
On Wednesday evening, Eban Goodstein, Ph.D., visited Roanoke College to give a talk on climate change and what students can do to change the future. RC’s Chair of Environmental Studies, Valerie Banschbach, introduced him as the Director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and the Director of the Bard MBA in Sustainability.
Goodstein began his talk by acknowledging that, while talking about climate change can be a depressing subject, there is “probably nothing more important that we could talk about in the world.” He then gave some information about the Earth’s past ice ages, mentioning that, during the last ice age, the average global temperature was only 9°F lower than it is today. He used this figure to transition into his topic for the night by adding that, if we don’t take action against climate change now, the average global temperature could potentially increase by 9°F in the next thirty years.
Goodstein gave some information about the recent increase in unprecedented weather events and how these changes are making natural disasters more severe. He mentioned the drought in California, the record-breaking rainfall in Britain, and the fact that 2014 brought the worst flooding in 2000 years. The hottest year on record was 2014, and 2015 is expected to “blow that record out of the water,” according to Goodstein.
He explained the basics of climate change by saying in the last 100 years we have been steadily increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. This causes extended droughts due to hotter temperatures and longer summers, but also extreme floods and stronger hurricanes, as the increased temperature causes more water to evaporate into the air.
While a fair amount of time was spent pointing out the dangers of climate change, much of the lecture was geared toward inspiring students to take action. Although our generation faces a problem of a caliber no generation before us has ever faced, inherent in that responsibility is an opportunity to make large-scale improvements on the world future generations will inhabit. The conclusion of Goodstein’s talk was based on this notion, as he mentioned Bard College’s upcoming Power Dialog, which invites approximately 400 students from across the state to convene and have a conversation with the person creating the plan to meet Virginia’s target of a 37% reduction in emission reduction by 2030. The Power Dialog event will take place in Richmond, VA on April 4, 2016.
Goodstein said, “Ultimately, the way to overcome the paralysis that sets in when you otherwise think about global warming is taking action. That’s the best way to deal with a sense of powerlessness.”
At the end of the lecture, students from the audience were invited to ask Goodstein any questions they had about the presentation, or climate change in general. One RC student asked how to deal with the fact that most businesses are concerned primarily about self-preservation and won’t want to take steps to reduce their negative impact on the environment. Goodstein said “requiring permits in order to emit carbon into the atmosphere” may be a solution to this problem.
Goodstein suggested that RC students involved in the model UN organize an event so that those who aren’t able to go to Richmond for the Power Dialog event can still have an opportunity to discuss climate change. He also recommended that students visit 350.org, a site that provides resources for those interested in starting their own climate-focused movements. Finally, he urged students not to become discouraged by saying that every decade has experienced gridlock, and that all social progress has emerged out of movements like this one.