Community College of Philadelphia is a vibrant gathering place that gives people an opportunity to work for a better world.
On Nov. 9, the Sierra Club and the College’s Coalition for a Sustainable Future joined together to sponsor a program on climate change and explore its impact on Philadelphia and the planet.
Michael Mann, distinguished professor of Meteorology at Penn State and an expert on global warming, spoke to a nearly packed house in the Bonnell Auditorium. He is a leading member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which won the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.
In his talk titled, "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: The Battle Continues," Mann spoke of global warming from a historical perspective, explaining how the earth has warmed up a degree and a half in the last century. He noted 2014 “came in as the warmest year on record and there is enough data to indicate that 2015 will be the warmest year on record.”
Mann told the audience that even ultra-conservative IPCC scientists agree:
- Global warming is real
- Climate change is caused by human activities
- Climate change is threatening the planet
He pointed to the recent, extreme weather events as evidence — the dried up lake beds in St. Angelo, TX in 2011, the ever-decreasing moose population and lobster migration in Maine, California enduring its worst drought in 1,200 years, and other flooding and warming events in North America — as proof.
If the world keeps burning fossil fuels at the current rate, Mann said, it will cross into a danger threshold by 2036. But he added it is possible to make a difference.
“What is our future? That depends on us,” he said. “If we could stop burning fossil fuels today we could reduce climate sensitivity by 2.5 degrees Celsius (roughly four degrees Fahrenheit). “If so, it offers cautious optimism. It provides encouragement that we can avert irreparable harm to our planet. That is, if — and only if — we accept the urgency of making a transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
That same cautious optimism has been expressed by politicians and climate scientists alike. In August, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan, a historic step in the Obama Administration’s fight against climate change. Among other restrictions, it calls for limited carbon emissions from power plants. In addition, China, India and parts of Europe have committed to investing in renewable sources energy.
It’s not too late for individuals to do their part, Mann said. By making simple modifications — using energy efficient light bulbs, driving a fuel efficient vehicle (or better yet, using publictransportation), recycling, insulating, composting and powering down electrical devices every night can go a long way on curtailing reliance on fossil fuels and reducing the earth’s carbon footprint.
“We frame the issue as a scientific problem or an economic problem, but to me it’s a problem of ethics,” Mann said. “We have to make sure we make decisions today that determine the future of the planet for our children and our grandchildren.”