Last Thursday, a talk focused on climate change was held at the University of New Mexico in an effort to encourage students and the University community to acknowledge their collective carbon footprint and learn how to engage in constructive conversations.
“The most important thing we can do is talk about it,” said Holly Olivarez, the coordinator of the event. “Even if we are confused and even if we are unsure.”
Olivarez, a senior undergraduate student majoring in Earth and Planetary Sciences. She is an aspiring climate scientist, and plans to attend graduate school in the fall specializing in climate change communication.
At the event, a scientific climate overview was presented by professor and chair of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, Peter Fawcett. This was followed by a discussion aided by Olivarez and keynote speaker Mark Ronchetti, Chief meteorologist at KRQE.
Olivarez said that her main focus during the event was to simply promote conversation — the good, the confused and the frustrated.
The speakers addressed the polarized debate around climate change in the U.S. UNM student, Samantha Dicker, said that it is very easy to politicize climate change, especially with the polarization of parties and ideologies that we see in politics today.
“We need to separate climate change from the political arena that it has been placed in,” Dicker said.
During Olivarez’ presentation she said that a major predictor of whether the public will agree that climate change is impacting us has nothing to do with science, but simply where they fall on the political spectrum. Olivarez provided attendees with several videos, including one created by Texas Tech University climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe, and her research on the topic.
“The political debate surrounding climate change has nothing to do with science, but everything to do with our ideology and our identity,” said Hayhoe in the Ted Talk that Olivarez presented.
Hayhoe said when the fundamental reasoning behind politicized issues become intertwined with our identities, any argument can be easily taken as a personal attack. Which she said, in turn is deterring any productive conversation.
“Everyone has their own way that they find they can do something towards solving human-caused climate change,” Olivarez said. “This is a great opportunity for us to utilize our own creativity.”
Along with Olivarez’ presentation of Hayhoe’s Ted Talk, she aimed to educate and help people talk about climate change by presenting Project Drawdown and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
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The event was sponsored by several student groups including Advancing Women in Science, Geology and Environmental Science Club, UNM Environmental Coalition and 350 UNM.
Ronchetti pointed out in discussion at the event that one of the best ways to make climate change feel more manageable on an individual scale is through localization.
New Mexico exhibits the effects of climate change in the form of increased forest fires and drought, Ronchetti said. He explained that the community can help Albuquerque’s environment by volunteering to clean up the Rio Grande Bosque.
“Those of us that are paying attention to the solutions rather than the argument are focusing on making progress," Olivarez said. “As climate change starts to affect more and more people personally, it is going to change their perspective, and if the conversation is already in motion, then we can progress that much faster.”
Elisabetta Mackin is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @elisabettamackn.