Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Environmentalists strive to change climate, minds

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: News

An environmentalist panel, “Changing People in a Changing Climate?” convened Tuesday to discuss the negative effects that climate change has on people around the world. The dialogue, which was subtitled “Ethical Implications of Climate Disruption,” focused on the environment, globalization and accompanying conflict.

Saleem Ali, an associate professor at the University of Vermont, discussed his new book, “Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future.” Ali wrote that clashes over environmental problems, specifically the scarcity of natural resources, could actually be used to achieve peace.

Ali said climate change and conflict are, at their core, ethical issues. He emphasized the words of Mohandas Gandhi, who said, “the Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Ali used this quote in titling his book because he argued it sums up the cause of modern competition over natural resources. He explained people must find a way to address both environmental problems and human rights abuses together.

“Constructive consumption cannot occur if you are not focused on issues of livelihood and try to address inequality,” he said. “We have to meet the needs of the population, but in an ethical way,” he added.

He explained that intrapersonal relationships and the connection between people and the earth can be an inspiration for peace. “For me, climate change is really about … appreciating our fundamental relationship with Earth.”

Ali used the blockbuster “Avatar to illustrate this connection, saying he interprets the movie as “going back to the traditional age. It also has to do with this forest which is being mined, which goes back to fossil fuels.”

The panel included four Brandeis professors with a diversity of expertise: Executive Director of Development and External Affairs at the International Business School Prof. Michael Appell (IBS), Prof. Bernadette Brooten (NEJS), Prof. M. Cristina Espinosa from the Sustainable International Development Program at the Heller School and Prof. Tory Fair (FA). Prof. Kate Moran (PHIL) moderated the discussion.

“The root of this problem is a crisis in values,” Brooten said, referring to both environmental and humanitarian issues.

Ali agreed. “The empathy part is missing,” he said. “People don’t get it.”

When asked how people can get motivated about climate change, Moran answered that, “There’s a space between recognizing that something is the right thing to do, sometimes, and getting the motivation to do it. And it can be a very big space.”

Espinosa added that connections with the outside world are imperative to motivation. “When we see change, we then see it as something that is outside ourselves. Like, a sacrifice,” she said, “To achieve that kind of perfection, we must think of ourselves and others as a part of a collective.”

“Sometimes, I think [climate] just becomes another thing out there, another thing to feel guilty about,” said Fair.

He urged people not to “reduce everything to a carbon footprint.” Instead, he said, they should weight environmental, humanitarian, and other aspects of a situation and try to make the best choices they can, from there. “So what if there’s a slight ecological footprint? Don’t think myopically from one impact.”

Professor Tory Fair showed slides of her students’ environmentalist art projects. Their assignment was to incorporate a cactus into a sculpture. The works were set up in the Shapiro Campus Center for a week in the beginning of the semester.

In addition, It’s Real, It’s Unreal, and It’s Uncertain, a film by Charles Radin, with videography by David J. Weinstein, was also shown. It featured interviews with a diverse collection of Brandeis students and faculty who were informed about, uninformed about and generally uninvolved with climate change.

“Brandeis University is a tremendous intersection between the local and the global,” said Appell of the film. He spoke highly of the Sleep-Out hosted by Students for Environmental Action last week. “I thought his was a wonderful gesture. It is the kind of thing Brandeis students do,” he said.

“I think what we have here is an unknown,” said Fair, “and it’s scary. But this unknown is really an opportunity. I would just like to celebrate this unknown with you and the environment.”