Robert Miller: Climate change is interconnected and happening now

A polar bear cub and its mother. Overall, Earth’s climate has warmed by about a degree Fahrenheit since 1900. In the Arctic, where a number of processes amplify the warming effects of carbon dioxide, temperatures have risen four to seven degrees in the last 50 years. Polar bears could become extinct by the end of the century if Arctic sea ice continues to melt as a result of global warming, scientists warn.

Whether brush or forest, wildfires are omnipresent. Extreme winds have ripped across Europe this winter. There are now hundreds of billions of locusts swarming across East Africa, laying waste to the land before them.

That’s why the upcoming lecture series at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury — “Climate and Human Civilization” — has increasing force. It’s not theoretical. We’re living it.

“It’s a world issue,” said Mitch Wagener, professor of biology at Western, who has organized the series. “And the people who are least responsible for it will be those that are most affected by it.”

The lectures are presented by the university’s Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Education. They will be held March 24 through April 21 on Tuesday evenings from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Student Center Theater at Western’s Midtown Campus. They are free and open to the public.

The lecture series is now in its fifth year. Wagener frequently gives talks to the public off campus on the subject. His listeners are generally convinced of the basic premise — climate change is happening — but Wagener said it’s always good to present people with the new data and ideas.

“It’s important to know the people in this field are trying to change things,” he said.

This year’s series has a wide scope of lecturers.

Wagener will give the first talk, on Arctic Ice on March 24, and the last, “The Moral Imperative of Climate Change,” on April 21.

The first is on the polar opposite of the fires that have devastated Australia this year and are an annual occurrence in the western US — the melting of the Arctic ice in the far north.

This ice covers the northern pole. The National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has said it’s as fundamental to its ecosystem as trees are to the Amazon rain forest.

And, because of global warming, it’s disappearing, getting smaller and thinner. This is bringing changes not only to the Arctic ecosystems, but also to weather and ocean current patterns around the world.

“It’s the polar vortex,” Wagener said. “It’s why we had such a mild winter this year.”

The next two lecturers will be Shane Murphy, an assistant professor of psychology, on March 31, and Anna Malavisi, an assistant professor of philosophy, on April 7.

Murphy’s talk, “The Psychology of the Extinction Experience,” will focus on how people perceive their immediate world compared to how that world has actually changed over time.

He said he’s asked students to talk to parents and grandparents about the world they grew up in.

“They’re amazed to hear how rural New Milford was, how it was all farms,” Murphy said. “And that’s only in a family’s lifetime. Go back 1,000 years, 5,000 years.”

Making people aware of these changes can make them understand them, and challenge some of the assumptions of the way things are today.

“I want them to have a better relationship with the environment,” he said.

Malavisi is an environmental philosopher. Her lecture, “The Urgency of the Ethics of Greening,” will deal with combining an awareness of the science of ecosystems with a deeper knowledge of what that science means.

That, she said, can move people’s awareness outward.

“We’re aware of others,” she said — of other humans, and of the greater world around us.

America has generally treated one of those groups of other humans — Native Americans — with near-genocidal disregard. Laurie Weinstein, professor emeritus of anthropology at Western, will address that in her talk on April 14, “Environmental Justice and Native Americans.”

Weinstein said that as the European colonists arrived, they pushed Native Americans off their land, then settled them on reservations far from their actual homes.

But, Weinstein said, when oil and gas exploration or mineral rights crop up, reservation land is anything but sacred.

“There are issues with oil pipelines, mining tailings,” Weinstein said. “There are water issues.”

But Weinstein will also discuss a good development.

The Fairfield County Community Foundation has given the Jane Goodall Center a $3,000 grant. That will pay two student interns to tend the center’s permaculture garden at the university.

Wagener said the breath of the lectures in the series — a biologist, a psychologist, a philosopher and an anthropologist — shows how complex the issues surrounding climate change are.

“It’s about how we live, and how we treat each other,” he said.

Connecticut Media Group