Climate panel focuses on local responses

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, pictured above, spoke Friday in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium on climate change.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, pictured above, spoke Friday in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium on climate change. Photo by Joyce Xi .

When U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy took the stage in Kroon Hall’s packed Burke Auditorium on Friday, he said he was thinking not only about himself and his constituents, but also his family.

Murphy was one of six climate change experts who sat on a panel hosted by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute on the future of Connecticut and New England in the era of global warming. While the tone of the event was grim, the panelists suggested many possible solutions to mitigating the local effects of climate change, and those in attendance reacted positively.

As the first speaker, Murphy set the bleak tone for the event. He wondered aloud about whether or not the world will have changed unthinkably and irreversibly by the time his young sons reach adulthood.

“In only a half a decade, all of a sudden, we have come to a consensus that some of our worst fears may be coming true,” he said.

The rest of the panel members ­— who were drawn from a variety of fields related to climate change — echoed his worries. Ronald Smith, Yale professor of geology and geophysics, and Kerry Emanuel, MIT professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, discussed the negative effects of the rising sea levels on local infrastructure and the likelihood of the recent catastrophic weather events indicating a change in climate, respectively.

But all six experts were still optimistic, offering local projects and even individual actions that could be completed in the fight against climate change. One such solution involved changing education policy. Murphy concluded that the states of New England needed to invest more in environmental education, and Marion McFadden of the Hurricane Sandy Task Force cited her greatest challenge as the misinformation that people have about storm recovery.

“While certainly rebuilding is a locally driven process to protect our communities and our investments, we knew that it was really going to be critical to engage and incentivize communities to rebuild differently — in a more resilient manner,” McFadden said.

Yale and New Haven have seen a historically high proportion of hurricanes in recent years, which many climate scientists have said is the result of climate change. In 2011, Hurricane Irene caused at least 10 deaths in Connecticut and resulted in power outages throughout the state, while 2012’s Hurricane Sandy saw four deaths and widespread property damage.

Members of the Yale community who attended the event reacted positively to the panelists. Jonathan Mellor, a YCEI postdoctoral student, was impressed by how the event brought together policy makers and scientists to create a discussion with multiple facets.

“I hope that the University and the policy makers and scientists keep this dialogue going as we continue to face the devastating effects of climate change,” he said.

The event also attracted attendees from outside of Yale.

Mark Pagani, the director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, moderated the event, and Katie Dykes ’99, deputy commissioner for energy at the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, and Alexander Felson, director of the Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory at Yale, also participated in the panel.

Correction: Sept. 16 

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy has daughters, when in fact he has two sons.

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