How should we talk about climate change?

Originally posted on September 15, 2011

by Emily Bowers

This is Part 3 of a three-part series on climatologist, Dr. Cameron Wake. See also Part 1 and Part 2.

Image of Dr. Wake courtesy of Union for Concerned Scientists


Part 3: On Sustainability

Dr. Cameron Wake has been heavily influenced and inspired by the University of New Hampshire’s chief sustainability officer, Tom Kelly, who leads the university’s sustainability programs. Started in 1997, the UNH sustainability program was first endowed university office of its kind in the U.S. Kelly’s multi-faceted approach to sustainability—applications in teaching, research, campus culture, operations and extension—resembles an outline for systemic change.

“It’s not about incremental change,” said Wake. “We need transformational change in the way we deal with climate, the way we deal with ecosystems and biodiversity, the way we deal with food and agriculture and the way we deal with society.”
Wake said that working with Kelly opened his eyes to why good science is important but not enough. “There’s a whole education, outreach and engagement effort that’s [also] important.”

Wake thinks that sustainability must be place-based in order for it to be truly successful. For example, the way New England defines and achieves sustainability may be different from what sustainability means to someone from the southwest.

“Trying to solve this problem with a cookie-cutter approach from Washington makes no sense,” Wake said. “Washington might want to do something like big cap and trade to reduce carbon emissions . . . but then how we actually figure out how to reduce our emissions, or how we adapt to more flooding or heat waves?”

“This needs to be done on a regional to local scale. The solutions are not going to be global, the solutions are going to be where people live.” Similar to the coalition of six Kansan towns, sustainability manifests most effectively when it is approached as a matter of shared goals and culture.

Wake attributes an aspect of his success to his ability to collaborate, something else he said he learned from his childhood mountaineering adventure. “It was daunting,” Wake said. “They took us from this unskilled, unknowledgeable group of kids who didn’t know each other, and by the end of the month we had climbed mountains together, we had saved each others lives, we had worked as a team, we developed all of these skills . . . We relied on each other.”

It may be just that sort of ardent collaboration–partially kindled by the dangerous terrain of icy mountains–that is required of communities in order to implement the systemic changes that Wake and his colleagues dream of and encourage.


Bio: Dr. Cameron Wake is a research associate professor with the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire. Here is Wake’s TEDx Talk:

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