UMass and the surrounding community were treated to a special guest lecture on the night of Tuesday March 6th. Charles Mann, award winning and best-selling journalist and lecturer, gave a presentation on where our environment stands today and where it might be heading in the Student Union Ballroom.
The author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created drew a diverse audience that included local residents and UMass students.
A bit of humor never hurts, even on a topic as potentially devastating as climate change, as Mann showed. Laughs were rampant as Mann showed a picture of a home filled with multiple dead animals, and referred to it as ‘Sarah Palin’s dreamhouse’. However, the underlying theme was meant to be a reality check of our Earth’s dwindling tenure and what we can do about it.
“The best thing that UMass could do to slow climate change would be to use the enormous assembled expertise there to work on solutions to climate change”, said Mann, also an Amherst resident. “UMass solar researchers are working on better solar panels and PERI (Political Economy Research Institute) is working on the economics of climate change.”
He stressed the importance of reversing our current climate change, drawing on patterns in the past that may hold the key to our future. “Ignorance of our own past is making understanding of sustainability very difficult”, said Mann in his lecture about the 1550-1800 Little Ice Age that resembles the climate pattern we currently face.
The “National Magazine Award” finalist also made it clear that sustainability is going to be a difficult task without some outside help.
“Doing more, as I would urge, would require substantial backing from the legislature, and, for that matter, the community”, proposed Mann, “the same community that is now fighting solar installations at the UMass farm and even a nearby landfill.”
Student reaction to Mann’s words seemed to resonate with the greater effort that could be made on campus. “I think we need more RSO’s and clubs that are involved with the sustainability of our campus”, said lecture attendee and UMass junior Dan Giardina. “Even more things similar to Clean-Up Sunday where police and those doing community service help recycle disposed cans and bottles.” Efforts such as the ongoing Green Games have promoted smart energy use, recycling, and other sustainable changes.
Mann seemed to agree that student participation is key to campus-wide efforts making substantial progress.“University students should be backing these efforts- loudly, in big groups and demanding greater support”, urged Mann. “Sustained student activism has made a difference in the past and it can do so again.”
This is certainly not an overnight process, but it is also clear to see that we are working against the clock. As Mann heartedly admitted, the audience would not understand sustainability by the end of his presentation. However, the points he brought up were stark reminders that we only have one world and it is up to us to take care of it.