White House Task Force Comes to YSU

Commissioner Paula Brooks, a 9th generation Ohioan and YSU alumna, engaged students and faculty during a roundtable discussion concerning climate change. She is a presedential appointee to the White House Task Force for Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Photo by Graig Graziosi/The Jambar

On Monday, Youngstown State University faculty participated in a roundtable discussion with the White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience member Paula Brooks, a YSU alumna and current commissioner of Franklin County, Ohio.

A.J. Sumell, associate professor of economics; Dawna L. Cerney, associate professor and chair of the geography department; and Felicia Armstrong, associate professor of environmental science, joined Brooks to discuss the potential impacts on climate change both globally and regionally.

A discussion period was held following the presentation with the audience, consisting primarily of YSU faculty, students and a few concerned citizens. Martin Abraham, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, moderated the event.

“The president assembled this task force with the intention of reaching out to local communities to help gather ideas for dealing with climate change,” Brooks said. “I’m a ninth generation Ohioan, I love this part of the country … Ohio [climate and geology] is very different throughout the region, but we can all agree we’re being impacted.”

After Brooks’ introduction, the attending professors presented their findings on climate change and impact.

The focus of Cerney’s presentation was centered on the necessity for regional adaptation to climate change and the value of clear communication when discussing climate change potentials.

“You don’t manage what you can’t control, you manage what you can adapt … we need to adapt our strategies to engage climate regions,” Cerney said.

Speaking on clearer communication of the often polarizing topic of climate change, Cerney emphasized a focus on clear and educated language being necessary for proper understanding and dialog, noting the need for social sciences and humanities to regain prominence to promote critical thought.

Dean Martin Abraham of YSU’s STEM college was joined by Commissioner Paula Brooks, professor A.J. Sumell, Dr. Dawna Cerney and Dr. Felicia Armstrong during the roundtable discussion on climate change. Photo by Graig Graziosi/The Jambar

“We need to reinvest in our social sciences … a desperate need to reinvest in the humanities,” Cerney said.

Highlighting the economic impact of climate change, Sumell argued that the cost of doing nothing would outweigh the costs of engaging climate change.

“Some individuals, some corporations, some regions will benefit from climate change, but you need to look at the total cost when making decisions … estimates suggest a 2-5 percent global GDP reduction due to climate change. For perspective, the Great Recession resulted in a 2 percent GDP loss. The estimates suggest that is the best case scenario for the future,” he said.

Other grim predictions Sumell shared included world property damage costs nearing $15 trillion, as well as potential business interruptions, such as crop failures, infrastructure destabilization and businesses simply moving away from high risk regions.

While Sumell does not believe government intervention is necessary for businesses to change their practices, he did offer potential business and environment friendly compromises for dealing with climate change.

“We could seek change without adding new tax burdens. For example, a carbon tax could be revenue neutral, replacing current taxes such as the payroll tax … 94 percent of economists agree the U.S. needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Armstrong’s presentation focused on climate resiliency, emphasizing practical measures communities can take to prepare for the coming climate changes.

“Precipitation will increase around 20 percent, primarily during the winter. We will experience more violent, extreme weather. Dry periods will be longer, as will growing seasons, which isn’t necessarily a good thing,” she said.

For preparation, Armstrong believes water management will be an important aspect of helping limit the damage of climate change.

“We need education on how to reduce storm runoff so we can build infrastructure with climate change in mind,” she said. “For example, permeable parking lots so runoff doesn’t overwhelm streets and sewers, and an increase in wetland areas to help contain runoff.”

Following the presentations, Abraham opened the event to audience questions.

Representatives from Frack Free Ohio were on hand to raise the issue of fracking in the region and their desires to see fracking operations banned in Mahoning County.

“There are different realities of fracking when you look at it on a macro versus micro level. On a micro level, we can see communities with fracking in them are worse off for it. On a macro level though, when you look at the country as a whole, the country benefits from the increase in natural resources we obtain from the wells. So there’s a dialog that needs to happen there … I would say most everyone agrees, if it’s going to occur, it should happen in areas with very small populations to reduce the impact it has on communities,” Sumell said in response to the anti-fracking issue.

Other discussion participants asked for clarity on the political motivations of the task force, sought means for incorporating adaptability into their daily practices and discussed the need for states to regulate where oil and gas companies may drill wells.

Following the discussion and presentation, Brooks spoke to the value of the task force and the decision to bring the discussion to YSU.

“We’re trying to get ideas from regions that we can weave into our task force recommendations, primarily for practical ways ideas can be implemented,” Brooks said. “We chose YSU because we want these discussions to be rooted in education and community action. I am a YSU graduate, and Dean Abraham is really a visionary, so I couldn’t think of a better forum for the discussion.”