American Rock Salt lecture discusses climate change policy

On Feb. 22 professor of geology at Western Carolina University Robert Young gave a lecture titled “Climate Change and Superstorm Sandy: Science and Policy.” This was Geneseo’s 10th annual American Rock Salt Lecture sponsored by the American Rock Salt Company. 

Young is the director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, which was created by Western Carolina University and Duke University. According to the website, the program studies the implications of rising sea levels on coastal communities and provides suggestions for changes in policy for those who could be affected.

Young began his talk by describing several projects within the program. He said that it performs geologic monitoring and established the nation’s first storm surge database along the coast. According to Young, the program is also responsible for flying airplanes along the coast after storms to provide photos of damage to the public.  

He went on to explain that he does not believe that the typical method of educating people about climate change is effective.  

“I want to weave experience with talking to the public about climate change,” he said. “One thing we don’t do well in communicating climate change to people is to tell stories.”

Young also said that there is a disconnect between the world of the scientist and that of the average person. 

“Scientists have strong beliefs that if we educate them, people will make the right decisions. This is not really true,” he said.  

Young said that often the real deciding factor in an individual’s view on climate change has to do with worldview.

Young also addressed people who oppose scientists who focus on climate change. 

“There are a lot of skeptics who wonder about the motivation of people interested in climate change. Rather than engage in a policy debate, they’re attacking us,” he said.   

Young spoke about using evidence of climate change like melting permafrost and changes in the appearance of land to reach skeptics. He said that using aspects of climate change that are familiar and relevant to individuals would increase people’s interest. That is the first step, he said, to making a change.

Finally, he addressed what the road to change will look like: “We should agree on the existence of climate change without talking about who is causing it.”