Praise for the climate-change confronter

“This is my seventh lecture today, so excuse me for wearing a microphone.”

Dr. Reese Halter, outspoken activist, broadcaster and ecologist normally does not give talks with a mic. Regardless of Loras being the last event on his packed schedule during his time in Dubuque, Halter brought zeal, personality and accessibility to the topic of climate change on Sept. 21, International Day of Peace.

After a quick introduction from an equally interesting speaker and Loras professor, Dr. David Cochran, Halter wasted no time in getting to the meat of the issue.

“Tonight I want to leave you with just three things: First, human beings are exceptional problem solvers – that’s what we do – AND elegant toolmakers. That’s what we do!”

The problem we need to solve? Climate change. The Pope, scientists and a myriad of experts agree. The tools we make? Innovation and technology are developing to live on a warming earth. We can adapt to rising sea levels, polar ice cap melting, ocean acidification and prolonged heat waves. Dr. Halter made that clear. What he made clearer is that we also have a moral and ethical responsibility to do everything we can to prevent further environmental catastrophe and injustice.

Halter took a short breath and continued, “The second thing, please. Please. For every problem, there are at least three solutions. And thirdly,” –if there were ever an appropriate time to use caps lock to reflect voice intonation, it is now – “CHANGE IS OPPORTUNITY IN DISGUISE!”

The following hour and a half passed quickly, but it was full of information. My mind was blown by the facts and intricacies of global warming.

“This June, we lost 300 gigatons of ice. This, ladies and gentlemen, is irrefutable.”

What does that mean?

“This ice melting has the power to raise our oceans ten feet.” This too, is irrefutable. Think of Florida and our coastal towns. It’s not just beaches that are being swallowed up; it’s our towns that can slip into the sea.

Along with rising sea levels, global warming causes extreme weather. This past June, Houston, “a town built to withstand flooding,” was doused by 11 inches of rain in one day. It was devastating.

Australia, where Halter is from, experienced the hottest summer on record this past year, and its Great Barrier Reef has lost fifty percent of its biodiversity.

“Half of it is dead. That’s the size of the U.K.,” explained Halter.
Whales are being hunted for dog food in Japan, and our leaders are allowing it to continue. Mature trees – which Halter referred to as “CO2 powerhouses” – are dying off because of extreme heat. The poor are being slammed with heat waves in places like New Delhi, India. Our oceans have tripled in methylmercury over the past 50 years.

Here, Halter did a little “food chain 101” – his words, not mine – and explained how fish eat sea plants, and big fish eat little fish and humans eat big fish and now we’re full of poison, too.

“We’re funding the biggest polluters, the wealthiest. We’re funding the Kochs! Come on! … The top executives received six billion dollars in salaries over the last five years to do two things: prevent our government from stopping subsidies and prevent any policies to come in to alleviate the problems. OMG COME ON! I don’t care if you’re the Koch brothers or you’re somebody sleeping on the street. Guess what! We all breathe air! And if you poison the planet, we all suffer.”

Taxpayers around the world are subsidizing wealthy oil giants to pollute our world. The facts spewing from Halter’s mouth were fascinating and upsetting in one breath. I found myself wondering during the talk why the U.S. couldn’t be more like the people of Holland, who recently sued their government for failing to combat climate change. This is the same country who has installed solar panels on a bike path used by thousands of people to commute to work every day.

Yet, Halter told us time and again that we college students have “won the double lottery.” We live in the United States and are receiving a higher education.

Humans aren’t the only life suffering, either. Bees are dying off due to heat and harsh pesticides which the Environmental Protection Agency are failing to regulate properly. These remarkable creatures that can detect tuberculosis and pregnancy are also responsible for pollinating much of our flowering plants, yet they are dying off by the billions. Sea urchins and sea stars are “melting into goo along the California coast line.”

Among all of the injustices was room for hope as well. Dr. Halter delivered the news with urgency, but also provided empowering examples to alleviate some of the damage done by climate change. The bees won’t go extinct because we can feed them. The Pope just issued an encyclical calling for compassion for the poor in fighting climate change.  People in Detroit and Cleveland have started “fruit forests” that bring the community together through harvesting fruits, nuts and veggies.

And the list goes on. Here on campus, we have students working to install solar power and reduce the use of plastic bags in Dubuque. We’ve installed low-flow toilets, we’ve harvested vegetables from the campus garden together and there are countless other projects working to make Loras more sustainable.

The knowledge that we need to act on climate change is there, and more and more people are exercising their will to save nature. Dr. Reese Halter was just one example of the many extraordinary people on this earth working to save our planet. To end with his parting words: “We need nature, ladies and gentlemen. Nature does not need us.”

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