Panel Discusses Effects Of Global Warming


A panel of experts at Thursday night’s screening of the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” in the Maryville University auditorium stressed the importance of changing one’s consumer behavior and adopting a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle in order to stave off disaster due to global warming.

Drawing upon their different areas of expertise, the panelists agreed that climate change was a real concern, and that time was running out for government and industry to make the necessary policy changes to save the earth for future generations.

The panelists each made a few opening remarks following the movie, and then answered audience questions. John Lewington, Ph.D., assistant dean of Maryville University’s John E. Simon School of Business and professor of marketing and management, commented on the sustainability challenges faced by his native London, England, where severe smog killed roughly 1,000 people many years ago and forced the government to rethink its fuel policies. He pointed out that “there are no easy solutions,” and encouraged the audience to “change [its] standard of living,” and “be prepared to make consumer behavior sacrifices” by living in a smaller house, buying a smaller car and driving it less often, and using less energy.

Tom Bratkowski, Ph.D., professor of biology at Maryville and assistant dean of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, explained that halting climate change lies in the three key concepts of sustainability, stewardship, and sound science. “If we look at these three together, we can do better because we know more,” he said. He emphasized the importance of thinking about the long term and “accept[ing] that we are responsible,” as well as the importance of civil awareness and action.

Bratkowski said he wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, in which he urged her to ask state officials to reconsider the planned shutdown and repair of Highway 40, explaining how it was unwise and unsustainable. A better alternative, Bratkowski said, would be to extend Metro Link further into the St. Louis suburbs. Climate change is a “giant problem,” he said, “but we can’t wait for the giants to fix it. It’s up to us.”

Espousing a more cautious opinion on the reality of climate change, William P. Dannevik, Ph.D., professor of meteorology, and earth and atmospheric sciences department chair at Saint Louis University, asserted that while he believes global warming is a real concern, he also urged the public to realize that the climate projections upon which policy decisions are being made are riddled with uncertainties. Dannevik recalled that when he graduated from college in the 1970s, the climatological concern was an Ice Age. He stressed the importance of basing policy changes on “dispassionate, objective information.”

Responding to an audience question about the February 13 ice storm that forced the cancellation of the originally scheduled screening/panel discussion, Dannevik pointed out the necessity of distinguishing between weather and climate, and that it was impossible to claim that any single weather event had a direct relation to climate change until it was monitored over a long period of time.

In addition, Bill Odell, senior vice president and design principal for the HOK architectural firm, addressed the fact that “48 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. come from buildings – the way we build them, heat them, light them, cool them.” He said “green building” is becoming a front page issue in the architectural and design fields, and also commented that the metropolitan expansion of the City of St. Louis was not sustainable.

Addressing the issue from a psychological perspective, Bobbi Carothers, Ph.D., Maryville assistant professor of psychology,  talked about the importance of education and making decisions made on scientific information. “We don’t like to think about things that make us feel bad,” she said, “and the consequences of global warming don’t make us feel so good.”

Humans are gripped by vivid images, she argued, and so where climate change was once an imperceptible idea, images like those from Hurricane Katrina and tsunamis have begun to draw attention. From an evolutionary perspective, she maintained, humans have to “prioritize their future over their present.”

The screening and panel discussion were organized by Nadine Ball, Ed.D., associate professor of education at Maryville University. The event was co-sponsored by the Academy of Science-St. Louis.

– by May Ashour, student writer, Marketing and Public Relations