Climate change specialist speaks at asssembly

Megha Nelivigi, Staff Writer

This Tuesday, Dr. Ben Strauss ‘90 spoke to the school about the growing concern surrounding climate change through a presentation that many students found shocking and upsetting.

Strauss presented the basic facts of climate change, which include the dangers of greenhouse gases, the increase of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, and the possible dangerous future for the planet.

Strauss’ visit was fitting following the numerous hurricanes that have devastated parts of the southern United States and Caribbean islands, Upper Division Library Department Chair Caroline Bartels said. The assembly seemed like an appropriate response, Lauren Port (11) said, as it helped suggest reasons for the extremity of the disasters and pointed to a trend line that natural occurrences such as these may follow in the future. Although September and October tend to be hurricane season, many scientists have said these disasters were exacerbated by climate change, Bartels said.

During the assembly, Strauss cited numerous scientific studies and reports, providing the student body with evidence that showed an increase in global temperatures, the rising sea level, the melting glaciers and ice sheets, the coastal flooding, and more.

Using computer-generated images, Strauss displayed what the earth would look like in terms of flooding with a temperature change of just a few degrees.

“I found the flood images and the side by side comparison of the earth with a temperature change of 2 degrees Celsius and 4 degrees Celsius to be rather alarming,” Maggie Brill (12) said.

“I like to compare climate change to a bullet,” Strauss said to the school. “It’s the speed of the bullet that makes it dangerous– not the bullet itself– and it’s the speed of climate change that makes it dangerous.”

Strauss’s job is to remain neutral, he said. “My job is to focus more on what the impacts of climate change are and what they could be, and the differences that our choices could make. I do not get into judging politics or advocating certain solutions. All I try to do is paint a very clear picture of what the consequences are and how different pathways could lead to very different futures,” Strauss said.

Port believed that Strauss did a good job maintaining a neutral stance, despite the natural tendency of any climate change discussion to take a political side, she said.  “Strauss did a good job by not targeting a particular political group or saying that this problem was anyone’s fault,” Port said.

McKayla Widener (10) agreed; “he simply gave us the scientific facts and didn’t include his opinion,” she said.

The one place where Strauss may have provided insufficient information was in his suggestions of what students can do to combat and delay climate change, Jamie Berg (11) said.

“He focused on the big scale issues that most people at HM already know about,” Berg said. Strauss should have focused on what the students can do at this moment to change the world, Berg said.

“Personally, I’m not sure what I can do to combat this problem, which left me feeling somewhat frustrated and helpless at the end of the assembly,” Brill said.

However, Brill felt that awareness of the issue is an important first step, and the presentation has inspired her to seek ways to voice the issue and attempt to reduce her own contribution to greenhouses gases, she said.

“Now that Dr. Strauss has informed us all on the science of climate change, we as a school can start taking more action as a community,” Widener said.

As a child, Strauss remembers always being interested in the environment, wildlife, and biology, he said.

“I can’t say that it was a particular class or thing I learned at HM that inspired me to get into climate, but when I became interested in environmental issues, the school was a great place to bring those concerns,” Strauss said.

Berg, on the other hand, said that the school needs to emphasize the importance of issues like climate change more.

“I’ve always felt that if HM students spent half as much energy on dealing with global crises as we do on our grades, the world would be a much better place,” Berg said.

“I know HM-ers are going to go on and have a lot of influence in the world and do a lot of interesting things, and they will have power from what they choose to do. Speaking to the school will be a great opportunity to have a chance at shaping even one or two persons’ thinking,” Strauss said.