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Changing the Conversation on Climate Change

University of Georgia

Seven prominent speakers in the climate change field spoke at the Bond Life Sciences Center this weekend as part of the Life Sciences & Society Program’s annual symposium.

Speakers spanned the field of climate change, from environmental and agricultural scientists, to journalists, to a professor of geography and an epidemiologist who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s all these different angles, I think, that people don’t think about when they think climate change,” said Christine Costello, an assistant research professor in the department of bioengineering who helped with the conference. “They just think, you know, distant ice that’s maybe melting. But the speakers here are really trying to raise awareness of the potential impact of climate change will have on our lives.”

One such impact is on farming communities. Marshall Shepherd, a speaker at the conference and the director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Science Program, was an author of a report for the National Academy of Sciences that addressed this topic.

“We are beginning to say with some confidence that extreme events like droughts and heatwaves are increasingly linked to climate change,” Shepherd said. “Farmers, whether they believe quote unquote in climate change or not, they know their crops are very much impacted by variability in things like rainfall and drought.”

According to Shepherd, farmers who embrace some of the benefits of climate science can actually gain competitive advantage and increase the productivity of their crops.

One speaker addressed a development in the field that may be revolutionary in the farming industry. Wes Jackson, the founder and president of the Land Institute, an organization that researches and promotes sustainable agriculture, spoke about his organization’s preliminary success with creating perennial grains. Although the grains are in the early stages of development, Jackson is hopeful they will be able to reduce soil erosion, chemical contamination of land and water, and sequester carbon in the atmosphere where they are planted.

“It’ll come on slowly and the research will continue,” Jackson said. “We still have a lot to do, but it’s out there now.”

One issue addressed by several speakers at the conference is difficulties they encounter when trying to educate the public is misinformation about climate change. Shepherd has found that in his experience speaking to the White House, Congress, and others about the subject, many are fallible to misconceptions and myths about it.

“The key thing is to become climate literate,” Shepherd said. “Policy for climate change is important, and average people elect policymakers, so it’s important to have an understanding of one of the greatest issues of our time.”

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