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Climate change effects need to be addressed, say panelists

Speakers from a climate change panel event in Gore Auditorium Nov. 14 ended with a Q&A section, inviting audience members to ask questions. The panel allowed five experts to talk about climate change through different disciplinary lenses. (Lewis Figun Westbrook)

Climate change has many interwoven issues including climate justice, local and global effects, expert errors and what can be done about climate change, according to panelists who spoke  Thursday in Gore Auditorium.

The panel included one student and four professors who each gave a presentation from the perspective of their expertise.

Climate justice

Eliza Van Dyk, a junior with an environmental justice custom major, discussed the importance of climate justice, recognizing that communities are not affected by climate change equally.

Marginalized and oppressed groups feel the effects of climate change disproportionately and movements have to be aware of this to successfully fight it, according to Van Dyk.

“No one is free until we are all free,” Van Dyk said.

For example, Van Dyk said climate change movements have to consider coal miners when protesting the end of coal mines because there needs to be a plan to provide jobs for those workers.

“We know that those countries and regions that are most responsible for carbon emissions are also the least valuable,” said Brent Olson, one of the other panelists. “The countries that are least responsible are the most valuable.”

Local and global effects

Bonnie Baxter-Clark, a professor of biology and director of the Great Salt Lake Institute, talked about local effects of climate change.

The Great Salt Lake is shrinking at an increasing rate, Baxter-Clark said.

Baxter-Clark explained that this is worrisome because that lake supports five million birds, affects the weather and provides jobs and money for the Utah population. The lake makes $1.32 billion every year and provide 7,706 jobs, according to the 2012 Great Salt Lake Advisory Report.

If nothing changes by 2030 the lake is predicted to go down by 3.3 feet, Baxter-Clark said, and even with adaptive innovation it will still go down 1.2 feet.

Han Kim, a professor of public health, talked about health effects on a global scale. Kim split his talk into two parts: direct and indirect effects. 

Climate change will directly affect global heat. Higher temperatures are associated with higher mortality rates, early labor and is predicted to cause the Middle East to be inhabitable in a couple decades. It will also directly affect the spread of diseases, according to Kim.

“The indirect ways are even more dangerous,” Kim said.

Climate change will indirectly cause things like lowering food production, increasing air pollution and hurricanes and increasing climate refugees, according to Kim.

“Climate change can cycle into human conflict,” Kim said. “Will countries be fighting for water?”

Expert errors

Russ Costa, an associate professor of neuroscience, said climate change is causing increased expert errors because it is changing how the world works.

Experts are able to make smart and quick decisions if they are in the situation of having a predictable environment and experience, according to Costa.

“These situations don’t apply to our new world,” Costa said. “The environment is too different to be predictable from the experience of experts.”

What can be done

Brent Olson, an associate professor of environmental studies, talked about hope.

“We need to bare witness to the climate crisis,” Olson said. “We are facing a profound change to our world.”

Audience members listen to the speakers one the climate change panel in Gore Auditorium Nov. 15. Abby Sandavol, a sophomore environmental studies major, said that the panel motivated her to continue pursuing a job in environmental studies. (Lewis Figun Westbrook)

Climate change is progressing in a non linear and unexpected way therefore the strategies to combat it must also be non-linear and unexpected, according to Olson.

Olson used the example of parkour as a way to reclaim space and create communities. 

“So what does parkour […] have to do with the climate crisis?” Olson said. “They represent change, nonlinear and unexpected.”

Olson also encouraged the audience members to play. 

“Play is a tool for building something new.” Olson said. “It’s about repurposing the world as it is into one that is more robust, just and vivacious.”

John Watkins, a professor of economics, said there are still things that can be done to curb the effects of climate change.

“We have seen the enemy,” said Watkins at the beginning of his talk. “And the enemy is us.”

The practices that are now destroying the world have come from dead ancestors and those practices need to stop being the standard, according to Watkins.

“We spend whatever we need to mitigate climate change,” Olson said.

Olson said that America needs to fight climate change the same way they fought World War II. 

“[Our actions are] all resting on the assumption that we can do what we damn well please,” Olson said. “We realize now that there are unintended consequences.” 


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Lewis Figun Westbrook is a transfer student majoring in communication and minoring in psychology. In their free time they enjoy reading, writing and most importantly binging Netflix. They hope to one day write queer YA novels and be a graphic designer.

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