If there is one thing that’s consistent about the Friends of the Village Library Sunday afternoon programs it’s that they always bring in dynamic speakers on current topics of interest. Their gathering on April 19 was no exception. It involved two professors from Hartwick College talking about climate change in a program titled “Frogs, Polar Bears, and Humans: Can We Survive?”
We all know that climate change (or its variant, global warming) is a touchy subject. But with severe drought on the West Coast and record-breaking cold snaps in the East, something unusual is going on. Even though 97 percent of the scientific community believes that human activity is having an adverse effect on the environment, there are climate change skeptics and deniers out there that dismiss any concerns. The most extreme act as if global warming is a “liberal” plot to force green energy on the world.
Stan Sessions, a biology professor, and David Hutchinson, a retired geology professor, discussed the subject in detail. They prefaced their remarks by stating they were not climatologists but simply concerned scientists who are naturally attracted to the subject. They explained that science is not an absolute, and that scientists are naturally skeptical with “doubt” being their driving force. Scientists are often wrong.
Still, Sessions and Hutchinson were impressed with the fact that 97 percent of the world’s experts believe that climate change is real and that human activity may be the tipping point. They pointed to one study in particular, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, that showed a steady rise in carbon emissions over the last 50 years. CO2 has been blamed for helping increase the Earth’s temperature over the last 100 years.
The two professors were quick to say that carbon is not the only cause of global warming. Water vapor and methane have an even greater effect on rising temperatures. They also pointed out that in Earth’s history over 99.9 percent of all species have become extinct. But all those factors still don’t change the current debate about whether human activities are pushing us over the edge.
As for polar bears and frogs, they were part of the title because they make a great “tease” and their existence may be in peril because of global warming. The news there is mixed. Although there are only about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the world, they are technically brown bears and a hybrid is developing as brown bears migrate north and polar bears migrate south. With frogs, who need water to lay their eggs, we may be losing some species, but we keep discovering more (there are more than 5,000 in the world today). So the situation is not hopeless.
The professors concluded their discussion by promoting the concept of solar power. They admitted it is not feasible in every situation but cold weather and cloud cover are not deterrents. It depends on the physical setting of each individual property. In this area there are free resources to find out if it’s cost-effective. If clean energy is a viable alternative to carbon, why not use it?
One of the problems with the presentation is that climate science is not always easy for laypeople to comprehend. Despite the fact that Sessions and Hutchinson spoke clearly and with a great sense of humor, it was easy to get lost in all the buzzwords and statistics. It didn’t get any easier when one skeptic in the audience tried to refute the professors’ viewpoint with jargon that sounded like a foreign language.
It’s likely that whatever opinion someone had about climate change coming into the talk, it was unchanged. But the fact that we are experiencing extreme weather patterns all over the world means that the discussion is not going to go away. Sessions and Hutchinson simply highlighted why it’s so important we stay focused on it. Climate change will be on our radar for the foreseeable future.
David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that all book and movie reviews are for titles that the Village Library has available to borrow.