Panel discusses effects of global warming at home and abroad

by Meg Jackson

As temperatures continue to rise, so does awareness of global issues.  On May 13 Whatcom Community College hosted its annual Global Panel Event, a free conference for students and the community, intended to shed light on the global impacts of climate change and small-scale solutions that could have big results in the long run.

Eli Loomis, a professor at both Whatcom and Western Washington University, opened the event with a speech and a visual presentation about the effects of global warming.  He showed the audience a graph of how average global temperatures have increased over the last two centuries.

“This is something that there is no question about,” Loomis said.  “The temperature is higher than it was in 1880.”
He discussed the main cause for the increase of global temperatures: emissions of carbon dioxide caused by humans through cars and factories, heating homes and buildings, and burning coal, which is what produces 30 to 60 percent of the electricity we use.  Loomis also said the amount of fossil fuels we burn in one year took about 400 years to make.

Loomis showed the audience a PowerPoint slide in which he listed the “simple” and the “complicated” results that we will start to see as climate change increases.  Simple side effects that we can be sure of are: “it will get warmer, sea levels will rise, precipitation patterns will change, and extreme weather [will be] more common.”

The more complicated effects, as Loomis explained, include what scientists cannot yet be certain about, like weather patterns on a local scale and “effects of the unknowns,” such as the release of methane from seas and soils in permafrost regions; a natural process accelerated by global warming.

“You guys all noticed how this winter didn’t really happen?” Loomis asked the audience, adding that mild winters are going to become a more common occurrence.

“The most basic thing we can be very certain of is that things are going to get hotter,” he said.

Loomis said that although there is little room to debate the existence of global climate change, large industries like oil companies are “interested in keeping things just the way they are,” meaning that if enough people decrease their use of fossil fuels to reduce global warming impacts, these industries could lose profits.

“So really I think the solution isn’t to buy solar panels, but to demand change,” said Loomis.  “The more we talk about it, the more people will speak up about it.”

Loomis closed his speech by giving suggestions as to how we can reduce the effects of global warming on a personal level.  Some things we can do include using alternative forms of transportation, particularly bikes and public transportation, unplugging our electronic devices when they are not being used, and completing small forms of labor by hand in lieu of machines that produce carbon dioxide.

“Every little bit helps, and it feels good,” he said.

Following Loomis’ speech was a panel of seven international Whatcom students to answer questions and discuss how global climate change has impacted their home countries.

“This last summer we faced a huge problem with water supply,” said Natalia Cestaro, a student from Brazil. “For some reason we didn’t have enough.”

Shay Haq, from Pakistan, said that 20 million livestock in his country died due to drought.

Some of the panelists said that people in their countries are noticing the effects of climate change but are unaware of the causes.

“In India, people believe in global climate change because they can see the change,” said Shivani, a student from Delhi, “but they don’t know what global warming really is.”

Alan Alatorre, from Mexico, said that farmers in his country are having trouble keeping their crops alive, but they do not know why.
Another reason why there is little concern about global warming in some countries is because they are experiencing greater problems such as poverty and hunger.

“What they care about is how to live and how to survive,” said Serigne Diouf, referring to those in his home country of Senegal. “They don’t believe in the global climate change.”

“People are so worried about getting food on their plates, they are not worried about recycling and things like that,” Cestaro said.
However, some countries are taking steps to reduce waste and carbon outputs.  Maria Lotero said that in her city in Columbia, there are two days every year where it is illegal to drive your own car.  This way, people are encouraged to walk, bike, or use public transportation.

This year was Whatcom’s fifth annual Global Panel Event which took place in Heiner Theater.  The conference was also sponsored by the Global Citizen Association and Whatcom’s World Languages and International Programs.

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