Students, Professors Examine Climate Change At Tuft University Conference

“I haven’t experienced such a dangerous time since the nuclear arms race in the late 1950s,” said Peace and Conflict Studies Professor George Lakey.

He was speaking about the precarious state of the Earth’s climate and he’s hardly the first or only person to suggest a need for alarm.

The complicated issues surrounding climate change and resource allotment were discussed at length this past weekend at a climate justice conference held at Tufts University outside Boston. Eight Swarthmore students, Lakey, and Swarthmore sociology professor Lee Smithey attended the conference along with six others from Bryn Mawr and Haverford. The conference, entitled “Anticipating Climate Disruption: Sustaining Justice, Greening Peace” was a weekend of speeches and panels that ran from Thursday to Friday. Speakers came from all across the spectrum of academia, but all spoke to the same point: current enviromental practices are not sustainable and something needs to be done.

A panel held Saturday evening used energy consumption figures to show that the Earth is at its peak level of energy production and will not be able to support rising levels of energy consumption. The speakers said that without significant investment in sources of renewable energy, there will soon not be enough to meet consumption needs and competition over resources will become fierce.

“That was the most shocking speech,” said Kanayo Onyekwuluje ’13, a peace and conflict studies minor. “I guess I’d just never thought about that reality or stopped and thought, maybe we do need more energy.”

Another talk that struck with students examined the issue of food sovereignty, asserting that food shortages will only be solved when those who are in need are able to assert that current models of food charity will be inherently ineffective.

“In a way,” said Zoe Cina-Sklar ’15, “there seemed to be a lot of pessimism. A lot of people had plans, but pointed out their pitfalls and perceived them as possible to fail.”

“Conferences can be rather intense,” said Professor Lee Smithey, “but by going there we got to expose students to lots of ideas and academics they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Students encountered academics coming at the issues from every discipline. Economists, sociologists, political scientists, and a broad swath of natural scientists looked at the challenging environmental issues that face the planet.

“In a sense,” said Onyekwuluje,” I do feel optimistic knowing that so many bright, amazingly talented people were coming up with so many great ideas.”

Students said that parts of the conference sometimes made them feel that problems were insurmountable, but that optimism prevailed.

When asked about the conference’s optimism, George Lakey asked, “Have you ever been in a dappled grove where the sunlight just comes through the tops of the trees? That’s what it was like. A little bit here, a bit there. It’s not all dark.”

Ultimately, the students who attended came away from the conference and feeling more informed about the climate issues activists must confront.

“Being tucked away in academia can sometimes make these issues feel very intangible. Going to this conference really helped energize me and remind me why I find activism so important.”

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