Sustainability speaker sheds light on future by looking to past

By Harrison Brooks
Flapjack Chronicle

As the last of the light left the skies on a temperate Thursday evening, the lecture hall of Science B 135 slowly filled with people gearing up for the latest installment of HSU’s Sustainable Futures speakers series, paleoclimatologist Richard Norris’ “Geologic Analogues to Future Global Change.”

The crowd, made up of equal parts faculty, students and community members, sat facing the classroom’s eraser swept chalk boards. After a brief wait, Arne Jacobson, director of the Schatz Energy Research Center (a co-supporter of the speakers series), took the stage for a short introduction and a plug for the other lectures in the series.

Dr. Norris, a Harvard grad working with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, took the floor and began his power point and lecture with the goal of answering a complicated question — what are the consequences of ecological change?

Norris’ talk focused on defining the way our world will change in the future based on how it played out in the geologic past. Through various charts, examples, and quips, Norris drew on his research to make a connection between the future of our planet now and the conditions of Earth roughly 55 million years ago during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a large scale climate event which mirrors many of the changes expected to be seen in the next 200 years.

The changes he talked about included total loss of coral reef structures, huge extinction in the deep sea and a decline in cold planet creatures like whales, penguins, and seals, with  likely few extinctions in the surface oceans. Through various charts he showed how the long term and sequential order with which this will unfold.

“Future ecosystems will start to resemble those of the past ‘Greenhouse’ but will never get completely there,” said Norris. “We will keep some ice and cold deep ocean.”

Although Norris’ topic was grim, he got through the lecture with jokes slotted between analysis. He explained that though he loves disaster flicks, we shouldn’t be concerned about A Day After Tomorrow kind of scenario.

The talk closed after roughly 50 minutes, and was followed by a Q and A session, with questions coming from just as many faculty and community members as students.

Annamarie McKellips, a 20-year-old environmental science major from Arcata, was among those in attendance who found out about the talk from a friend and said she really enjoyed the speaker.

“It’s always good to see a graphic disclosure and then a full explanation,” said McKellips. “He made it very clear it wasn’t going to be a large flux, it’s going to be a sequence.”

Norris’ talk was one of many to occur this year on campus in the Sustainable Futures series, supported by both the Environment and Community MA program and the Schatz Energy Research Center.

“The Goal of Sustainable Futures is to bring to our community experts from our region, state and nation to talk about as it pertains to different aspects of sustainability,” said Mark Baker, as professor and organizer for the speakers’ series.

The next talk in the series, “Preparing for Plug-in Electric Vehicles on the North Coast” by Matthew Marshall and Colin Sheppard, will take place on 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 13 in the same venue. Like all the events in the series, the talk is free and open to the public.

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