Addressing climate change for us all


This is an open letter to the environmental departments at both Susquehanna and Bucknell universities.

Mr. Fatool’s Oct. 2 Daily Item op-ed (minus the political rhetoric) requires an informative, logically based response if the public is ever going to “get on board” with climate change.

The reason is because Mr. Fatool ‘s op-ed addresses the most fundamental question the public has regarding this topic: How can scientists make a valid claim that humans have detrimentally damaged our planet based on data that represents a minuscule time period compared to the life of the planet?

Specifically, our planet is 4.5 billion years old while modern humans are less than 100,000 years old, so isn’t it possible that what we are experiencing — a temperature increase lasting several centuries — has occurred thousands of times before humans even existed?

This question has vexed people, many a lot smarter than I am, for the 40 years that I’ve heard that humans are causing the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere to increase to an irreversible level.

A corollary question to the above is a classic cause/effect question: How does an increase in our planet’s temperature increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters?

Whenever I watch Governor Newsom standing in front of a raging wildfire declaring, “What more evidence does society need to prove that climate change is occurring?!”, my response is, “They need a cogent argument that connects the dots from human activity to a wildfire.”

As a minimum, these questions should be answered in a Daily Item column written by someone in either department — perhaps a collaboration? — who not only knows the answers, but, can also write in a style that is easily understood (In other words, quoting from technical journals won’t do).

Additionally, each department’s students should be able to answer these questions as well, particularly those who participate in protests, as nothing de-legitimizes a protest more effectively than when the protester cannot explain what she/he is protesting about.

Since the answers to these questions are based on science, presumably the students in both universities’ environmental departments are learning a science-based curriculum that includes:

n Chemistry: thermodynamics, combustion reactions and heat transfer (what is a “greenhouse gas” and how does it cause heat retention?)

n Technology: The techniques used to determine historic temperature fluctuations (the thermometer wasn’t invented until the 18th century) along with limitations on their accuracy.

n Meteorology: The application of thermodynamics and heat transfer to predict weather patterns, other than the MJO, and their effect on natural disasters.

n Statistics: The methods, and their limitations, used to extract meaningful data from the multitude of variables that affect our planet’s climate.

Without this scientific education, the best that students can do when asked to explain climate change, is to simply repeat slogans (“The fossil fuel industry is evil”, “There’s no plan B”, “Fight big oil” as one student posted, or the Greta taunt “How dare you!”). Repeating slogans, along with protesting, are activities that can be learned without attending college.

In addition to writing — a core skill in both universities’ liberal arts curriculum — answers to the above questions, each department could also have their students organize informational forums to educate the public. Examples include inviting scientists to participate in Q&A sessions like Dr. Rousu at SU did with the topic of capitalism. Or, organize a set of point/counterpoint lectures to give the community an opportunity to hear both sides of the climate change discussion, like political science students at SU did with their Ben Shapiro/Ed Rendell lectures a few years ago.

Activities such as these, referred to as “community outreach” — or as the Merck plant manager used to say, just being a good corporate neighbor — would not only teach students how to constructively engage the public to effect a positive change but also provide an opportunity for the universities’ teachers to provide a public service to the community where they live.

Finally, I recognize that some of these activities might have already been done and I just missed it. If so, I apologize and look forward to future climate change educational events.

Peter Engstrom lives in Danville.

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