Le Moyne College hosts Focus the Nation event
By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer
On Jan. 31 Le Moyne College joined more than 1,000 other schools, places of worship, civic organizations and businesses in participating in Focus the Nation, an unprecedented teach-in model on global warming.
The event was sponsored by the Le Moyne College Center for the Study of Environmental Change, the Center for Urban and Regional and Applied Research, the Le Moyne Lectures Committee and a grant from HSBC.
The day’s activities included a series of faculty and student presentations, panel discussions and a showing of the film “An Inconvenient Truth.” The presentations and panel discussions covered such topics as “The Good Earth: Religions and the Environment” and “Energy Resources: What Are they Costing Us?”
In the evening, distinguished climatologist Dr. Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University , delivered the keynote address entitled “Global Warming: The Predictions, The Likely Impacts and Possible Solutions.”
Mann is the author of 85 research papers on various aspects of climate change. He holds bachelor’s degrees in applied math and physics from the University of California at Berkeley, a master’s of science in physics and a doctorate in geology and geophysics, both from Yale.
In addition to his work on the statistical reconstruction of past climates, Mann’s research compares climate models and data in order to understand the long-term behavior of climate and the climatic impact of human activities. Mann also investigates the physical and ecological responses to climate change.
In 2002, Mann was named one of 50 leading visionaries in science and technology by Scientific American magazine.
Mann is best known for his “hockey stick” graph — the famous chart showing that the earth’s temperature has sharply increased over the past 100 years or so, after centuries of gradual change. It was showcased in the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the most wide-ranging compilation of climate change to date.
The “hockey stick” temperature chart originates from two seminal research papers published in Nature in 1998 and Geophysical Research Letters in 1999 by Mann, along with Ray Bradley of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Malcolm Hughes of the University of Arizona. The chart is relatively flat from the period 1000 to 1900 AD, indicating that temperatures were relatively stable for this period of time. But after 1900, temperatures appear to shoot up (forming the hockey stick‘s shape) which led the researchers to conclude that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are the major cause of the global warming phenomenon.
According to Mann, the earth is warming unnaturally at an unprecedented rate and it is largely the result of human activities. The warming of the earth from greenhouse gasses has a direct effect on climate. The intergovernmental panel reaffirmed that in a report published in 2007, but they had not been able to narrow the range of possibilities. Depending on what steps people take to restrict emissions, by the end of the century, it would be expected that the planet’s average temperature will rise anywhere between about 1.4 and 6 degrees centigrade (2.5 — 11 degrees Fahrenheit). The predicted effects have already become visible in some regions — more deadly heat waves, rising sea level, stronger floods and droughts, the spread of tropical diseases and the decline of sensitive species.
Mann emphasized the importance of switching to alternative sources of energy.
“We have to act many decades in advance,” said Mann. “If nothing is done, we’ll lose major cities on the East coast, like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York due to extreme drought and ferocious cyclones and hurricanes. We need to act on this issue seriously.”
Mann offered some solutions to the proliferation of global warming. He listed geoengineering, cloud seeding, planting genetically-engineered crops, using volcanic aerosols in the stratosphere every two years, growing trees, pumping carbon dioxide into the deep sea and into rocks and fueling of power plants with coal.
Mann said he was impressed with the way that Le Moyne students and faculty are contributing to the fight against global warming.
As part of the Focus the Nation event, a film entitled Le Moyne on Ice, documenting the environmental research of eight Le Moyne students in Iceland that took place last summer was shown prior to Mann’s keynote address. They set off on a 12-day trip to study the land and vegetation where glaciers have retreated to document that work. The trip was the culmination of a semester-long study of the forces that shape the environment in a course entitled “Earth’s global Environment: Iceland” taught by Dr. Lawrence Tanner.
While overseas, the students spent much of their time carefully identifying and counting plants and gathering soil samples on land that was covered by glacial ice as recently as only a few years ago. Because the retreat of glaciers is a direct consequence of global warming, the rate of formation of these soils is a measure of climate change.
Tanner said he chose to study Iceland because the country is geographically, environmentally and socially unique. “The students were in awe,” said Tanner. “They were overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of it all.”