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Friday, February 22,2013

OU prof appeals to student generation on importance of combating climate change

By Kaylynn Hlavaty

An Ohio University faculty member with first-hand knowledge of how climate change is affecting the Tropics spoke to an audience of students and faculty in Baker Theatre Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Sponsored by the OU Sierra Student Coalition, the talk was led by Hogan Sherrow, an assistant professor of anthropology and sociology.

Known as the "Chimp guy" by the people who know him around campus, Sherrow is a resident expert on the human species' closest living relative, the chimpanzee. Since the start of his trips to Uganda in 2000, he has researched and observed the developmental behavior of chimpanzees for as long 12 to 13 hours a day.

Over the past 13 years while researching in a classic tropical climate with a wet and dry season, he told the audience that he has seen the forest change in response to changing seasons.

"We often don't think about tropics when we think about climate change, and instead we think about the melting of the polar ice caps, but in fact the tropics are heavily impacted by climate change," said Sherrow.

Around 2004-2005, Sherrow said, he started to think beyond his research and about how climate change is related to the tropical rainforest.

"On an academic side, it got me interested, but I'm also a dad, and by raising my kids and knowing what is going on in the environment, it got me interested on how I could make an impact beyond my own research," Sherrow said.

In 2006, he started to correspond with former U.S. Sen. and Vice President Al Gore's group, Climate Reality Project, and just this past year he was in San Francisco to undertake a three-day training on how to give a presentation similar to Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." The group saw his connection with students as an asset to the team, and as a result recruited him to the cause.

Wednesday's presentation and discussion was an altered version of Gore's presentation with a small bit of a local spin included. The title of his presentation, "Climate Change and the Climate Generation," describes the current youth generation born between 1988-2010 and highlights the impact and role this generation will have on climate change.

"Those are the people who will have to deal with what is going to happen in the future, unlike the challenges we have seen in the past." Sherrow said. "This is a case where the older generation will be largely responsible for what the climate generation has to deal with, so it falls on my shoulders and everyone in my generation and older to make our kids not have to deal with the most extreme scenarios."

With the help of visual aids, Sherrow cited examples of natural disasters that have occurred throughout the world in recent years, including a massive wildfire in Australia in 2011, the Pakistan flood that afflicted 20 million people and destabilized a nuclear-armed country, and the flood in India that killed 100 people and left millions homeless.

Sherrow said the data presented in the slide are irrefutable and that there is no alternative set of data to explain them.

"We are already seeing 4 percent more water vapor over the ocean than we did 30 years ago, so the atmosphere is holding more water vapor, which is resulting in the kinds of rainstorms we have been seeing," he said.

DESPITE THE MOMENTUM OF climate change, Sherrow said, citizens, politicians and environmental groups are taking a stand to bring more government attention to the issue.

"Even though we have this huge challenge, people are working hard and they are making progress," he said. "A lot of this is due to federal subsidies that people think should be on the chopping block for alternative energy. These help companies get established and help them to figure out how to reach demands in a more efficient way."

Students involved in Fossil Free OU and the Sierra Student Coalition showed their support for addressing climate change by attending the discussion.

Jenna Richardson, a senior communication studies major and anthropology minor, said she believes that global warming is currently happening, and she is now working toward efforts to raise campus awareness.

"Initially seeing that data, it's heart-wrenching and sad because if this continues and if we let our environment fall apart, then we will be left with nothing," Richardson said. "People won't have homes, and we will have a famine in regions where we haven't had one before."

An example of the reality of climate change occurred this past year when 47 out of 50 states were declared as being in a drought stage, according to the Climate Change Project. Farmers and consumers in Athens and throughout the Midwest felt the effects of the dry weather on crops and prices.

"When someone says droughts happens all time, this is true, but last year we were in a near drought state because of having heavy rains and then the ground was drying up and they didn't have enough water in the water table," explained Sherrow.

"If you look outside the U.S., it was worldwide problem affecting everyone on a global scale," he said.

Sherrow cited ways that OU students and faculty can encourage local and national politicians and academic leaders to rethink energy consumption and make serious efforts to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.

For example, he said, people could go on to make a pledge and voice their opinions about OU quitting any support of the fossil fuel industry.

"My hope is for that students push for things they really care about and get really involved and don't let it end in their university years," Sherrow said. "This is a global event with global impact so we need to have a global perspective and think about people around the world and how everyone is connected."


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