College Democrats & Farmhouse Host Climate Change Panel
By Ella Prieto, Assistant News Editor
On Tuesday, the Gettysburg College Democrats and Farmhouse hosted a climate change panel from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Joseph Theatre. The panel featured Environmental Studies Professor Sarah Principato and Economics Professors James O’Brien and Rimvydas Baltaduonis.
The event began with an introduction by College Democrats President Carter Hanson ’23 and House Leader of Farmhouse Alyssa Gubernick ’23. They provided information about their respective organizations before beginning the conversation with the panelists. Hanson moderated the panel with questions that he chose based on the panelists’ backgrounds and areas of interest.
Research Related to Climate Change
Principato stated that as a geoscientist, she studies glaciers, which are affected by climate change as increasing temperatures causes them to melt. She also discussed her work with fellow Environmental Studies Professor Salma Monani on increasing effective communication about climate change.
Baltaduonis explained that his expertise is in energy and experimental economics. Working with those topics, he researches human decision-making in situations that are often motivated by environmental energy questions.
O’Brien spoke of his work as an environmental economist and microeconomist who tends to focus on the costs and benefits of government regulations.
With the professors’ work explained, Hanson then asked what they feel is at stake with climate change. He specifically directed the question to Principato, elaborating his question to ask why glaciers melting matters to the global community.
Principato explained that glaciers melting causes sea levels to rise, which results in the sinking of important land. Notable examples of this include the fears of Venice, Italy and Shanghai, China sinking. She also added that feedback loops are created when glaciers melt, as the sun is absorbed more efficiently by the color of the dark water, which increases the temperature more than the white ice. Principato mentioned there are broader issues of climate change such as changes in precipitation and food insecurity.
On being able to stop or alleviate climate change, Principato answered that it depends on “how we move forward” as a global community.
Climate Change as an Economic Crisis
Baltaduonis began his evaluation of climate change by stating that climate change is a major economic crisis, but one we could tackle. He discussed how we are “beyond a point” to escape climate change, so instead, we must look at ways to adapt to mitigate its effects. While this is not easy to do, Baltaduonis discussed possible methods, including solar geoengineering and innovations through private sectors.
O’Brien responded to Baltaduonis’ statements by saying we need to focus on the trade-offs within climate change policy. He stressed the importance of recognizing that “not everyone is affected by climate change in the same ways” and that climate change benefits some. Wariness of the private sector’s experiments was also mentioned, especially the moral issues of letting these companies operate without oversight.
Hanson then questioned the safety of solar geoengineering, particularly the scientific consequences and practicality of the practice.
Principato answered that there are a lot of unknowns about solar geoengineering, citing a speaker from last year, University of Pennsylvania Professor Dr. Joseph Francisico, who is an atmospheric chemist. In his speech at Gettysburg College, Francisco discussed solar geoengineering and expressed concern about how to “turn off” the chemicals released from the practice if they are found to be dangerous. Principato said his speech resonated with her. Given that too much information is still unknown, she also worries about the risks of solar geoengineering.
Baltaduonis responded that there are worries that an abrupt stop of solar geoengineering would result in drastic climate change, most likely worse than what is currently felt. However, he feels like it is an optimistic solution to the issue of climate change at the moment.
Baltaduonis acknowledged that international action is very tricky and that he hopes we can have an international treaty to act on the issue.
Principato mentioned the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Conference of the Parties, as a positive act of international action on climate change. However, she did feel that the United States should work harder to be a leader in the fight against climate change.
Baltaduonis responded that he felt the United States was a leader due to the passage of key bills.
“With the passage of the Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, the United States committed to policies and energy transition to more sustainable renewable energy even beyond what Europeans have committed,” said Baltaduonis.
O’Brien agreed with Baltaduonis, saying that “[the bills are] essentially going to make it so that the main challenge to renewable energies isn’t cost any more.”
Baltaduonis followed up with an encouragement for students to learn more about renewable energy, as the federal government is hiring many people to work on these issues.
Improving the Discussion of Climate Change
Principato answered, “You have to make a connection with people in some way.” She then called on students in her senior seminar, where they discuss this topic, to give their input.
Ethan Bruemmer ’23 said, “The best way to communicate to [people who do not believe in climate change] is to bring into how they are going to be affected locally, with local issues.”
Sam Arkin ’23 expanded that a helpful way is “…trying to include climate mitigation in all sectors of someone’s life.”
O’Brien replied that he thinks it is important to “play the long game” and to bring mitigation strategies back to basics, starting with education. He said he believes that increased education about climate change at a young age will lead to a generation that understands and is fully willing to work to combat climate change.
Baltaduonis added that in his experience, the most impactful way to communicate the hazards of climate change is to explain the individual health effects it causes on humans.
Hanson then asked the panel if they have personally seen a shift in the conversation around climate change.
Principato affirmed the question, commenting on how full the room was to see a panel about climate change, showing increased student and community interest in the topic.
O’Brien said, “Ten years we would have had a debate about whether climate change is real. Now, everyone accepts it.”
The Impact of Large-Scale Climate Change Policies on Local Communities
O’Brien stated that the Inflation Reduction Act is projected to decrease energy prices, which is unique compared to other bills. Most climate change reduction bills increase energy prices, causing local communities to dislike them. She said she believes this act, and hopefully future ones as well, will help in shifting the view on climate change.
Baltaduonis agreed with O’Brien, saying that new bills are focusing more on energy justice and equity, which benefits local communities and lower-income civilians.
The Future of Climate Change
The last question posed by Hanson was if the panel felt optimistic about the future of climate change.
Baltaduonis is optimistic because the alternative will lead to failure.
Principato also said she feels optimistic because of “all of you [those in attendance] and my students. You are the future, you are going to do awesome things and help us.”
O’Brien felt optimistic as well because he sees good innovation and good policy being created.
Following Hanson’s questions, the audience asked questions of the panel. The first student asked what the panelists believe the time frame would be for the fruition of the past policies discussed, such as the Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, to be seen.
Baltaduonis and O’Brien answered that the time frame will largely depend on the policy that is passed by state and federal governments.
Next, a student asked how the panel believes we can efficiently use our resources to “get the most bang for our buck” while taking into account our infrastructure.
Baltaduonis and O’Brien again answered and said that the change in resources will not be quick and that we will need fossil fuels and other nonrenewable energy sources to smooth over the transition to renewable energy. However, private-sector funding, testing, and innovation will increase our resources.
The final question of the event was how can economies that depend on bad pollutants, such as coal mining in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, adapt to regulations that cut out those pollutants.
Baltadounis answered that the belief that coal mining employs a lot of people is false and that the majority of it is done by advanced machines.
O’Brien added that economies can adapt often to these types of changes. He mentioned how Pittsburgh shifted from an economy dependent on steel manufacturing to one focusing on finance and health care. Policymakers in such economies dependent on unrenewable energies should begin to make policy that looks for new products they can create with a comparative advantage, similar to what Pittsburgh accomplished.
The event ended with a round of applause for the panelists and a thank you from Hanson to all that attended.