Monday, 15 July 2024

Students turn out for Rushing talk on global warming


Students came from as far away as Middletown to hear the new District 3 supervisor emphasize hope in a message balancing the dire state of earth's atmosphere with methods to fix it.

Many students perched atop bookshelves or remained standing throughout the presentation. The school's principal, Steve Gentry, poked his head in then retreated to his office.

Rushing began by expressing disappointment in former Vice President Al Gore's "An inconvenient Truth," a movie about global warming most of the audience indicated they had seen.

Rushing complained the film was depressing and that the only optimism was expressed at the tail end, which most people missed. "The only part of the movie where Al Gore talks about the solutions is in the credits," she said.

"My expertise is in the solutions," she continued, adding that solutions "may begin in this room."

Rushing was invited by the school's Academic Decathlon team, led by sophomore English teacher Diane Nelson. Nelson said the subject of this year's Super Quiz was climatology.

Pausing frequently to answer student questions as well as politely contest a heckler's repudiation, Rushing kept the crowd attentive using history and humor.

Tracing the history of life since primordial soup, when the planet was "rich with nutrients for life to thrive," Rushing said that after early life forms "blew through that." Then they began eating each other, "which I'm not recommending," she said.

She quickly described how early life forms developed cellular structure and began using solar energy to grow, creating a gaseous byproduct known today as oxygen.

Rushing said carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere remained steady at about 280 parts per million until the industrial revolution. Since then CO2 levels have risen 37 percent, according to Rushing, to a current level of 384 ppm. "Atmosphere is arguably the most important medium for life," she went on.

She described how a dramatic change in the atmosphere possibly caused by a meteorite was responsible for the die-off of the dinosaurs and subsequent age of the mammals.

But she said mankind caused the current warming of a just a few degrees.

"You as leaders foster hope," she said. "You understand that we made it, so we can unmake it.

“You see various scenarios that are pretty horrific," she said, illustrating several possible visions of the future based on different levels of change.

"What's so bad about a little heat?" she asked rhetorically. "What is five degrees?

"The last ice age was three to five degrees cooler," she noted. "Keep in mind, North America was under 3,000 feet of ice."

Rushing went on to say that changes are unpredictable, that the Gulf Stream could shut off, the Midwestern United States could become a vast desert and that earth could become a "runaway greenhouse" like Venus.

She said that 2006 was the hottest year in human history and that British records, kept since 1659, indicate that 10 of the hottest years recorded occurred in the past 12 years.

She also noted that Exxon, one of the world's largest petroleum companies, is fighting the premise of global warming. "There are powers that be that really want the facts of global warming to not be true," she said.

Rushing then shifted to describing what Lake County residents can do to reverse the effects of atmospheric change.

Using the 1963 Clean Air Act as an example, she encouraged creativity. "If we put our mind(s) to it, we can accomplish these things," she said.

Rushing urged the crowd to reduce its use of energy-intensive products and lifestyle practices, including what people eat, what form of transportation they use, building materials used in home construction and land use planning.

Using a solar oven as an example, Rushing said, "I've done it with two U-Haul boxes and I cooked a whole turkey in it ... don't tell me you can't do it on the cheap."

Rushing said "a whole science" is emerging around different construction materials' energy intensity, or the amount of energy used to create or embodied in different building products. "Concrete is probably the most energy intensive, next to steel."

Use of wood supports deforestation, she noted, which causes carbon dioxide increases.

Rushing also noted that natural building methods are superior in construction. For example, she said that cob cottages (made of earth and straw) built in Europe in the 1200s are still there.

In other California counties, Rushing said, codes are being written to allow or promote alternative building methods. "They still have to be earthquake safe," she said.

Rushing went on to describe how reversing global warming requires a change in mindset. She used agriculture and her own garden as an example. "Get nature to work for you instead of fighting it," she advised.

She described how she spreads straw to prevent weed germination instead of laboriously pulling weeds. She described the tenets of permaculture, which establish a sustainable or "permanent" method of agriculture using onsite tools. "Permaculture is saying you are going to be somewhere for a while."

She encouraged the crowd to eat locally-produced foods to eliminate costly transportation – which could require changes in eating habits to consumption of seasonally available products. And she told the crowd to ride the bus or bicycle.

"Local is everything," she emphasized.

Rushing concluded her hour-long presentation by focusing on the power of the individual.

"It starts with you and the choices you make, it moves to the community and that's how we change the world."


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