Conference talks global warming

Less and less maple syrup will be made in the northeast United States if global warming trends continue, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Professor Xuhui Lee said on Wednesday during a Peabody Museum conference. As warming damages sap-producing trees, he said, the production of maple syrup will move to the cooler climates of Canada.

But a loss of the sweet pancake topping was not the only potential consequence of global warming discussed at the conference which was the inaugural meeting of the newly formed Connecticut Science Center Collaborative, a group promoting climate education. Issues of air pollution and increases in human respiratory problems were also raised at the meeting which hosted representatives from more than 25 Connecticut science, education and research centers.

The Connecticut Science Center Collaborative was created this year by a partnership between the northeast-based organization Clean Air–Cool Planet, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and the New England Science Center Collaborative with the goal of helping state science centers and educators better inform the public about climate change.

Environment School Dean Gustave Speth, who spoke at meeting, said institutions like the Peabody will be important participants in the collaborative, connecting scientists with Connecticut residents.

“We need more bridging institutions,” he said.

Speth said a lack of public awareness about global warming could have political consequences.

“The scientific content of public policy issues is going up, while the public’s mastery of science and technology is going down,” Speth said. “This is a serious threat to running a successful democratic government.”

But Adam Markham, the executive director of Clean Air–Cool Planet, said the mission of the new collaborative would be primarily educational, not political. He said there is disagreement among some scientists over how serious a threat global warming poses, but most studies show that it at least exists.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in climate science,” Markham said. “But we are certain that carbon dioxide levels are rising and that global warming is accelerating. What we are uncertain about is exactly what effects and impacts the climate change will have.”

Lee, who teaches forest meteorology and micrometeorology at the environmental school, said skeptics argue that human-induced carbon dioxide omissions are relatively low compared to those caused by natural processes. But Lee said that photosynthesis absorbs enough carbon dioxide to counterbalance natural, but not human-induced, emissions.

Michelle Bell, assistant professor of environmental health at the environment school, discussed the effect of climate change on human health. She said that in addition to the rise of heat-related deaths and increases in the contraction of water-borne diseases, high ozone levels are affecting health, polluting the air more and more each year.

“We know we have higher ozone with higher temperatures,” Bell said.

Health problems from elevated ozone levels include asthma and other respiratory problems, Bell said.

“Think of it at premature aging of the lung,” Bell said. “You also have effects on how much air you can breathe in and out.”

Richard Polonsky of the New England Science Center Collaborative — after which the Connecticut collaborative is modeled — said his group encourages the use of creative educational methods. He said the NESCC uses exhibits, teacher workshops, hands-on props, a musical production, and a radio program on National Public Radio called “Weather Notebook” to spread awareness.

“Informal education is just as much a discipline as formal education, but it can incorporate a lot more creativity and be a lot more fun,” Polonsky said.

Five panelists engage in a discussion about the role of science centers in education at a conference of the Connecticut Science Center Collaborative at the Peabody Museum Wednesday.
Jonathan Ferrugia
Five panelists engage in a discussion about the role of science centers in education at a conference of the Connecticut Science Center Collaborative at the Peabody Museum Wednesday.

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