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Climate change author to speak in Petersham

  • GARDINER GARDINER



Recorder Staff
Monday, September 17, 2018

PETERSHAM — Hurricane Florence was making landfall in North Carolina, Super Typhoon Manghut was approaching the Philippines, and more than a dozen California and Pacific Northwest wildfires were still reported as active as Harvard Forest announced an upcoming talk by climate change author Lisa Gardiner.

Gardiner, who earned her bachelor’s in geology and marine science in 1995 from Smith College, where she will also offer two discussions for students, will be in Petersham Sept. 25 to discuss her University of Iowa Press book, “Tales from an Uncertain World,” subtitled “What Other Assorted Disasters Can Teach Us About Climate Change.”

The new book brings large-scale disasters to a human scale to emphasize and inspire the role of the individual in climate action.

The setting for the 7 p.m. talk at Harvard Forest’s Fisher Museum is fitting, since Harvard Forest is also hosting an ongoing art-science installation, “Hemlock Hospice,” that’s focused on the Eastern hemlock, a slowly vanishing tree being weakened and killed by the hemlock woolly adelgid whose population is growing because of warming winter temperatures.

For Gardiner, an educator at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., producing materials for blogs, websites, museums, classrooms, and books, including science-focused children’s books, and science comics, there sensed a feeling of helpless in people as she discussed climate change

“It was palpable. When people started to understand what was happening, you could see this kind of helplessness, depression, concern, anger – all completely reasonable emotions to have, but not very helpful in solving a problem. So the role of the individual is where I started, because I see so many individuals who didn’t know what to do with themselves, and were continuing to live unsustainable lives, unaware of how they could help or how they could change.”

Between hurricanes, extended droughts, wildfires, extreme heat waves, freezing spells, melting icecaps, and other closer-to-home problems, our “worry baskets” are getting overloaded by “humdrum day-to-day stuff,” said Gardiner, overwhelming us as we contemplate long-term environmental crises like climate change.

“We’re facing all these immediate disasters, and we’re also facing this very long-term disaster,” she says. “It’s tough to worry about the long-term situation. That’s of great concern because certain natural disasters are affected by climate change, making them more ferocious. If we’re constantly fighting wildfires and evacuating because of hurricanes, ee still need to deal with the long-term problem of climate change. It’s going to be tough.”

Yet some of those effects of a destabilizing climate – the extreme dryness in the West or the increased ferocity of hurricanes – are raising awareness that long-term climate disruption is already here.

And as shown by the effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico – which ultimately resulted in 3,000 deaths – “the idea of resilience, that we can bounce back from disaster, was very limited because the systems just weren’t in place.”

The author, with a doctorate in geology from the University of Georgia and a master of fine arts degree from Goucher College, looks in her book at “different breeds of disasters” – from creeping problems like coastal erosion and fast-moving crises like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake – and even a week of torrential rains and flash-flooding in Colorado.

The book also points to human-caused problems like the invasion of lionfish in the Caribbean, where the fish had none of the natural predators that it had in its native Indo-Pacific habitat, resulting in an explosive population devouring reef fish.

The story of lionfish, though, points to humans taking decisive action to solve the threat, with scuba divers and conservation groups leading the effort to reduce the population of the invading fish. Similarly, Gardiner points to a concerted effort in 1996 to move the Highland Light in Truro because of the danger of cliff erosion.

Gardiner uses the lighthouse as an analogy to emphasize how people who understand what we’re in danger of losing can come together to sound the alarm and work on finding solutions to the environmental problems we face.

“I suppose I needed some hope,” she says. “In these stories about other types of change, I realized there is some hope. These are incredible stories of people who’ve taken action to sound the alarms, even if the situation is sort of uncertain. Our survival instincts have kicked in in those situations and they can kick in here.”

Although not discussed in the book, the way humans responded to depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer, slowing the crisis by nations coming together and forcing innovation by scientists to replace use of chlorofluorocarbons, represents another example of tackling a large scale environmental crises, she said.

For the book’s cover, Gardiner asked her publisher to please not use the common image that’s used to illustrate climate change – the photo of Planet Earth as seen from space – “because it seems so insurmountable. You can’t see yourself in that situation, you’re so diminished, so small, that we seem ineffective in dealing with any of it. Yet all of us as individuals created this problem,

The enormity of the climate change crisis, she acknowledges, requires international action and national policies. But in her book, she stresses that those efforts reflect individuals taking action, “especially when we have a president who’s not in favor of this. It’s very import for those us who see the disaster to not sit on sidelines.”

That means how we vote and advocate for the climate crisis needs to be addressed.

But even people “very much on board that we need do something about this,” she says, “are driving large SUVs, or taking vacations halfway around the world, not considering their own impacts on the system. We as individuals have a stake in what we as the people of Earth are doing, but we as individuals can also take some initiative in our own, smaller communities, as homeowners associations, in our daily lives … by living in smaller homes, using fewer resources.

“Its a collective action problem,” Gardiner says. “But all of us did this, so all of us can fix it, too.”

On the Web: www.uipress.uiowa.edu/books/9781609385538/tales-from-an-uncertain-world

www.harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/hemlock-hospice