The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 30, 2010

Interest in global warming heats up at Pitt-Johnstown

Forum draws hundreds to discuss situation


The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — Hundreds of students and faculty turned out at Pitt-Johnstown for a daylong forum on global warming – more than might be expected after record winter snows.

“Wacky weather around here is normal. What you want to look at is the long-term trend,” said UPJ geography professor Mary Lavine. “Not what happens in Johnstown in a given day or year, but the summation of thousands of reports (worldwide).”

And that long-term trend, she said Tuesday outside the conference hall, is surely toward warmer Earth temperatures as the burning of fossil fuels create greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s rays.

Lavine agreed with other speakers that a disconnect exists between the science and an increasingly skeptical public.

But Lavine – who chaired the Climate Change Forum organizing committee – said the media has failed to cut through the noise created by vocal doubters, “a very small percent of the scientific community.”

Chemistry professor Manisha Nigam outlined the pull of forces in India: Responsibility to the planet vs. cheap fossil fuels to spur growth and lift millions out of poverty.

Nigam said India is formulating a national action plan to deal with climate change. It includes recycling, constructing facilities for collecting rainwater and mandating solar power in government buildings and hospitals.

She said the heat is being felt on the subcontinent: Retreating glaciers and the melting snowpack in the Himalayas threaten the water supply, coastal flooding is up as oceans rise, and the threat of drought is increasing.

Geography and history major Dominic Marchionna, 22, of Pittsburgh, seemed convinced.

“There’s so much hype,” he said.

“You have left perspectives. You have right perspectives. But this is a good bipartisan perspective. We need to keep progressing on more eco-friendly measures.”

“A lot of people don’t want to think it is happening,” said Ashley Blough, 20, of Davidsville, a senior majoring in environmental studies and geography.

Ray Wrabley, a professor of political science, discussed December’s global conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, that ended with a simple, three-page document.

It pledged action on fossil fuels yet set no timetables or controls. It kicked the problem down the road.

“Politics can’t be taken out of the political process,” Wrabley said.

“We still have this debate about what’s the best way forward.”

Regardless, Lavine said individuals can make a difference. She suggested better insulation to reduce demands for coal and natural gas, more fuel-efficient cars, supporting wind and solar power and reconsidering nuclear energy.