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Ancient Knowledge Future Wisdom

Iliana Schmidt, One Book Fellow

Thursday, November 4, 2021

On Thursday, November 4th, One Book One Northwestern, in collaboration with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Environmental Sciences Program, welcomed Professor Isabel Rivera-Collazo via Zoom for “Ancient Knowledge, Future Wisdom,” a presentation about archaeological perspectives of Caribbean coastal food and habitat security during climate crises. Rivera-Collazo is a professor of anthropology at UC San Diego and also works with the SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography.

As an archaeologist, Rivera-Collazo’s expertise allows her to identify examples of changes in the climate in the past and examine the state of the environment before, during, and after such changes have occurred. Rivera-Collazo highlighted her archaeological work in Puerto Rico, whose climate is modulated primarily by the equatorial portion of Hadley cells, which sets in motion the intertropical conversion zone (ITCZ), which is a low-pressure area that follows the warmest parts of the ocean to help balance the atmospheric energy between the hemispheres. The position of the ITCZ and the weather patterns that are modulated by it contribute to the pathways of hurricanes in the Atlantic. “When the overall amount of heat in the Earth changes, so does the sea surface temperature and the intensity of the Hadley circulation…all of this starts to dance, and we get climate change.”

The largest island on the Caribbean archipelago, located in the northeast corner, has many paleo-climactic archives that are useful to reconstruct and understand ancient climatic conditions. This corner of the archipelago is highly modulated by the oceanographic processes and exists at the mercy of the phenomena described above. Thus, as the climate has changed even since ancient times, the people inhabiting the island have reacted to such changes. By looking at specific times throughout history where researchers know that climate has changed, Rivera-Collazo said, we can better understand what it means to survive climate change in an oceanic region. 

Under what conditions are humans affected by climate changes? “Humans are affected and societies change,” Rivera-Collazo says, “when humans change the way they do things. We archaeologists describe separate cultures when there is a difference between specific variables in the archaeological record…climate change threatens people not because the drivers of climate change themselves intrinsically challenge us, but because they threaten our ability to continue to be who we are.” She continued by explaining the ways in which cultural aspects of ancient societies on the Caribbean archipelago, such as food and habitats, have been affected by changes in climate over time.

Rivera-Collazo concluded by reminding attendees the ways in which the evidence of the Indigenous communities and their practices are able to inform our sustainability efforts in areas, such as the Caribbean archipelago, that are facing rising sea levels and warming waters as a result of climate change. 

The talk concluded with a short Q&A with Professor Rivera-Collazo and a dinner for in-person attendees.

Seeking a Common Language to Save the Planet: CESR Symposium

Miles Lankford, One Book Ambassador

Sunday, October 31, 2021

On Friday, October 29, Northwestern’s Center for Engineering Sustainability and Resilience (CESR) hosted federal, state and local experts to discuss technology, business and policy drivers to address climate change. The daylong Symposium, titled “Technology, Policy and Individual Actions: Three approaches to address climate change” had content for every type of audience from national policy wonks to local community organizers to undergraduates. The event provided insights both practical and aspirational on how to engage in the climate sustainability field and make a difference – which was especially timely, coming on the eve of the COP26 (United Nations climate summit) in Glasgow this week where global leaders will help shape the world’s response to climate change over this decade.

NOTE: The CESR Symposium was remote and streamed live, and a replay can be viewed here.

Keynote speaker Karen Weigert, Executive Vice President, Slipstream, who is also a Sustainability Contributor for Reset, WBEZ Chicago, set the stage by framing climate challenges on both a global and local scale. She shared research on how cities like Chicago can be anchors to a lower carbon emissions future where urban residents use less energy than people who are not-urban. Weigert says that “looking at the technologies, the policies and the companies that make cities thrive helps us envision a future where we can see less carbon.”  She cited as an example the huge piece of policy that just passed in Illinois, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) that will set Illinois on a path to a 100 percent renewable energy future by 2050. Similar to One Book’s “The Story of More” Author Hope Jahren’s theme of feeling a sense of responsibility across sectors, Weigert’s remarks reminded us that we’re all part of climate change. 

The first panel focused on technology and how to build more resiliency and stability into our systems while accelerating decarbonization. The discussion covered a variety of green solutions including electric vehicle development, carbon capture and hydrogen development, as well as the critical roles that academic research and financial investment play in the development of these technologies of the future. 

The second panel looked at the issue of climate change through the lens of how disadvantaged communities have disproportionately experienced climate change’s effects and discussed approaches to local engagement with communities and incorporating their needs in this green energy transition. One of the panelists, an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , Region 5 in Illinois, recounted hearing from a wide variety of stakeholders from coal miners to girl scouts during past public hearings for Affordable Clean Energy Rules, saying: “we have to think about where people are and how we can help them at their level to look at climate justice at different layers.”

The final panel offered corporate decision-making perspectives and insights on climate change and how they are shaped by stakeholders including shareholders, consumers and supply chain partners. One of the most enlightening comments came from Victoria Zimmerman, Director of ESG & Sustainability Strategy Alignment with McDonald’s, who said that consumers have a lot of power and companies want to hear from consumers, and that “tactically the best way to do it for McDonald’s is engage with our Twitter as an authentic and informal way to communicate with our brand.”

Whether working at the global or local level, The CESR Symposium demonstrated the need for a common language among stakeholders invested in climate change solutions and provided incentive to collaborate together as a multidisciplinary Northwestern community to address these challenges.

One Book Keynote: Hope Jahren

Brittney Thompson, One Book Graduate Assistant

Thursday, October 28, 2021

On Thursday, October 28th from 5-6 pm we hosted our annual One Book One Northwestern Keynote event with author and professor Hope Jahren. Jahren’s book The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here is our chosen book this year discussing the global issue of climate change in a clear and accessible way to inspire readers of every background. Dr. Jahren gave a brief presentation in the beginning discussing 15 things everyone should know about how we arrived at climate change. She was later in conversation with Northwestern professor Bill Miller of the McCormick School of Engineering, also taking questions from the audience.

Dr. Jahren reiterated information from her book concerning the growth of the world population, growth in crop yields and global energy use. She discussed the power of individual action on local and global markets. Dr. Jahren reminds us that in 2020 we saw a big change in people’s behaviors and we should remember this when considering climate change solutions that require a change in our own behavior. This event was a reminder of the importance of climate change and environmental awareness, and reminds us of the relevance of all the events associated with this topic as the year continues.

Images in Climate Change: A Visual Storytelling Contest

Iliana Schmidt, One Book Fellow

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Beginning October 5th, Northwestern’s Dittmar Gallery hosted One Book One Northwestern’s “Images in Climate Change” photo contest entries. In line with this year’s One Book selection, The Story of More by Hope Jahren, Northwestern students had the opportunity to submit photos that reflect ideas about climate change, how we got here, consequences of climate change, and/or solutions to climate change. After all of the submissions were in, images were hung on display in the Dittmar Gallery for all to see. Located on the first floor of the Norris University Center, the Dittmar Gallery frequently hosts student work to appreciate and exhibit Northwestern’s finest works of art.

The One Book photo contest received 38 submissions, all of which are on display in the Dittmar Gallery. Of those 38 submissions, three students received awards selected by a panel of experts in photography, and one photo was recognized as the “people’s choice” winner that was voted on by the One Book community via Facebook. 

Kenneth He, who won first place, photographed a large cloud of smoke emerging from a building as two small birds fly around it. He said about his black-and-white photograph: “In the 20th century, the use of fossil fuels, pollution, and selfish greed have left our planet with poor air quality. As a result, healthy environments for animals like birds are diminishing at an alarming rate, leaving them with little resources to live. Will Earth become a place only inhabited by humans?”

You can see He’s photo and the other photo contest submissions at the Dittmar Gallery until Sunday, October 24th, 2021.

More at the Museum: Online Collection Talk

Madison McClellan, One Book Fellow

Thursday, October 14, 2021

On Thursday, October 14, The Block Museum hosted the “More at the Museum: Online Collection Talk.” Keynote presenter Corinne Granof considered selected photographs by W. Eugene Smith for the January 5, 1953 Life Magazine edition. Smith’s original photo essay consisted of 18 images captured across eleven Monsanto Chemical Company plants over the span of two months. Granof provided historical context by emphasizing the importance of scientific development and industrial expansion in post-war United States. The images feature chemists at work, crafting the magic and mystery of technological progress. 

After sharing her interpretations of Smith’s photographs, Granof underlined the importance of plastic production, and Monsanto Chemical Company specifically, in the United States following World War II. A brief clip from The Graduate, a 1967 film, highlighted the nation’s belief in the potential of plastics. Moreover, Life Magazine was itself an established source of objective and credible news, and the 1953 issue’s imagery promoted American ideals of ingenuity and innovation. Granof also directed the audience to Alissa Shapiro’s exhibition on Life Magazine's photography department

The Block Museum’s eleven piece collection on The Story of More can be viewed here.

Dittmar Dinner: Leaving and Losing New Orleans

Albert Wang, One Book Fellow

Thursday, October 7, 2021

On Thursday, October 7, Northwestern History professor Leslie Harris gave a dinner talk to an audience of over twenty attendees, ranging from first-year undergraduates to faculty to members of the greater Evanston community. Discussing the intersection of social, cultural, and environmental issues within the history and current state of her hometown of New Orleans, Professor Harris began with an introduction to the city and its evolution over time to become the New Orleans we see today. She then went on to detail the ways that Hurricane Katrina had affected the city’s economy, culture, and status within the United States, and the potential future effects of climate change on its land and infrastructure. 

Attendees were invited to discuss the effects of climate change on their own hometowns alongside larger trends in climate change. All who were present brought up the noticeable changes that had occurred, whether they be increased fires along the West Coast or loss of land to rising sea levels along the East Coast. Concerns were voiced over the lack of action being taken, but hope was also expressed for the future. Professor Harris is currently writing a book that will detail her experiences with New Orleans and climate change in greater depth.

50% in 5 Years: Bold Climate Change Actions for Northwestern

Albert Wang, One Book Fellow

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

On September 29th, 22 students from the Southwest residential area joined Professor Patricia Beddows, director of the Environmental Sciences program, at Willard Hall for dinner and a talk regarding Northwestern’s own carbon footprint and how we as a community can achieve an emissions reduction of 50% within the next 5 years. Ben Gorvine, psychology professor of instruction and Southwest Area Faculty-in-Residence, hosted this event. Beddows stressed the importance of the fact that there is no single solution to climate change; instead, true sustainability calls for the creation of multiple “wedges", each wedge an activity that will gradually increase the university’s emission reductions and combine to halve our carbon footprint. Students discussed potential wedges, such as banning single-use plastics, improved transportation planning, and replacing the compact fluorescent lights that the university currently uses with LED bulbs, which are slightly more expensive but have a longer lifespan alongside reducing energy use by a great amount. 

In the talk, students were shown that climate change is not strictly a personal responsibility, a narrative that originated with fossil fuel companies seeking to absolve themselves of responsibility for their destructive actions. In fact, over 65% of produced energy is wasted, often lost as heat, which normal citizens have no control over. Even if we were all to bring our residential footprints to zero, it would still not be enough to bring us to 50% due to the high footprints of industrial use and transportation alongside the lack of energy efficiency. 

Professor Beddows unveiled a plan to form workshops to develop climate action wedges every two to three weeks, comprising students, faculty and staff. The end goal is to have a portfolio of wedges, fully outlined with costs and returns, that will cut the university’s emissions by 50% in 5 years. This portfolio will be finished by Earth Day 2022. 

Beddows’ talk adds a layer of complexity to the introductory lesson told by Hope Jahren in The Story of More. Not only do we need to reduce our personal consumption, but more importantly we need to pursue collective action goals that will bring about the systemic change that is necessary for a emission reduction of 50%. These can include voting for political candidates with campaigns focused on climate legislation, as well as taking part in lobbying and outreach efforts to expand the public’s sense of urgency on the issue. 

At the end of the talk, despite the sense of urgency that had shadowed much of the discussion surrounding the necessity of many solutions and the current lack of political will to implement them, many students expressed hope for our future ability to achieve the necessary systemic improvements that will allow both the university and world to become truly sustainable.