Dr. Neocles Leontis, chemistry, discusses global warming and a hydrogen economy during the Focus the Nation event Jan. 31.

Dr. Neocles Leontis, chemistry, discusses global warming and a hydrogen economy during the Focus the Nation event Jan. 31.

Students, faculty focus on complexities of climate change in daylong event

Energy was high in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Jan. 31 as students came by the dozens to the Focus the Nation “teach-in” on climate change. Some of the sessions offered by faculty were forced to move to bigger venues to accommodate the large turnout.

About 35 faculty members offered informational sessions on diverse topics. Dr. Christine Onasch, environmental studies, whose subject was polar bears, commented afterward, “I think 90 percent of my 101 students are desperate to find out what they can do. They’re very concerned. They were very attentive, just soaking it up.

“After all, they’re the ones who are going to have to sort out this problem.”

The student-led event, organized by the Environmental Health and Environmental Service clubs and the Environmental Action Group, was part of a national day of dialogue. “Our purpose today is spreading awareness,” said organizer Laura Imren, a senior from Maumee majoring in environmental policy analysis. “I’m just floored by the turnout and so pleased and excited.

“The goal is to generate solutions and, on the national level, to begin a dialogue between policy-makers and students. At Bowling Green, we want people to take on this issue. We’ve discussed global warming for some time and now it’s happening, so it’s time for solutions. 

“With the panel tonight,” she said, referring to a later discussion involving local leaders and students, “we can start bridging the communication between the University and the community and start working on solutions.” 

The complexity of the issues surrounding climate change emerged in nearly every discussion.

Dr. Karen Sirum and students explore the environmental consequences of everyday choices.

Drs. Karen Root and Karen Sirum, biological sciences, led a session titled “How Do You Decide? Environmental Consequences of Everyday Choices.” Speaking to a packed room, they used visual aids and an interactive discussion to demonstrate how even a seemingly trivial decision such as buying strawberries from Florida can contribute to climate change through its impact on the water of the Everglades.

Bringing the subject closer to home, Root noted that Ohio is “number one in the nation for loss of wetlands. We’ve lost over 90 percent of our wetlands through ditching, draining, digging and dykes—and now we’re reaping the consequences.”

Students suggested purchasing organic products such as milk, which Sirum said is good except that even organic milk is produced from cows who are fed corn, which is not natural to them and has its own consequences. And the corn is still industrially produced, though without pesticides, she said. “Know your farmer and buy locally,” she advised.

Todd D. Hefflinger, a senior education major from Liberty Center studying physics and chemistry, gives a demonstration on ethanol and its environmental impact.

Sustainable food production could be important to the survival of the population, explained geologist Dr. Robert Vincent in another session, on the rising seas. While Ohio “will never sink beneath the waves like Florida or my home state of Louisiana,” he said, it may have to absorb displaced people from around the world. And “we have to be prepared to feed an inordinate amount of people,” he added, even though Ohio cannot grow three crops a year as more temperate climates can. Vincent believes the United Nations and the governments of the world should begin to plan now for these eventualities.

Master’s degree students in geology Jennifer Markham, from Tennessee, and Louis Sanderson, from Florida, expressed doubt about the general population’s understanding of the issues. Both had been environmental studies majors as undergraduates. “People get a lot of information thrown at them and they really don’t know how to make sense of it,” Markham said. “If you could get enough people to understand, it could make a difference.”

“It’s an extremely complex issue and hard to understand,” agreed Dr. Gary Silverman, environmental health and director of Environmental Programs. “Those who say it (climate change) doesn’t exist don’t understand the science. But the science is clear, and within the scientific community there is no debate.

“Today is helping to increase understanding of students, faculty and staff at BGSU,” he said, adding that he was delighted with the “tremendous turnout, which shows this is a timely issue for this community.”

February 4, 2008