SU Takes Steps to Reduce Carbon Footprint

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Student workers regularly collect recyclables from residence halls and academic buildings.Some may question whether what we’re already experiencing can get worse. To that, Kathy Straub, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and chair of Susquehanna’s Committee on Sustainability, would say it can—and will—if we do not dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “If we want to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius [which will help us avoid the worst impacts of climate change], we have to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050,” Straub explains. “If we don’t, then we’re going to go past that 2-degree threshold and have runaway melting of the ice caps, rising sea levels, things you really can’t get back.”

According to the IPCC, accelerated melting of glaciers, small ice caps and mountain snow pack, which is projected to continue throughout this century, will exacerbate the stresses on water resources, resulting in water shortages, reduced hydropower potential, and changes in the seasonal flow of water into regions supplied by major mountain ranges such as the Hindu Kush, Himalayas and Andes—areas that are home to one-sixth of the world’s population.

If the worst is realized, Straub says, islands will disappear under the deluge of rising sea levels, and certain regions of the world will be faced with an influx of “global warming refugees,” people displaced from low-lying metropolitan areas. If the sea rises up around them, residents of places like Hong Kong will have two choices: move out of the city or build a wall around it, which, Straub says, could not protect it indefinitely.

The idea of a mass exodus from an urban area brings to mind doomsday images, but perhaps the most frightening aspect of climate change is what it will do to food production. “If local conditions change very quickly—in 10 years as opposed to 1,000—organisms don’t have time to adapt, and you find you can’t grow the same things in an area that you once did,” she says.

Although global warming could make Pennsylvania feel more like Virginia as the century progresses, Straub says, the mid-latitudes will likely be the least affected, because these areas will still be able to grow crops. This may not be the case in other areas around the globe, including Asia, where scientific computer modeling predicts regional temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees Celsius before the century ends, causing drought and the potential for famine.

But should we be worried about what happens halfway around the world, especially when, as Straub puts it, “the U.S. government still kind of has its head stuck in the sand about the need [to reduce GHG emissions]”? Straub would say yes.

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