Lecture series at WCSU to explore ‘Climate Change and Civilization’
Weekly talks beginning Jan. 31 to present scientific evidence of human impact on climate

DANBURY, CONN. — The Jane Goodall Center at Western Connecticut State University will host a five-part series of weekly Tuesday lectures by WCSU faculty and students about “Climate Change and Human Civilization” from Feb. 7 through March 7, 2017.

Dr. Mitch Wagener, professor of biological and environmental sciences at Western, will be the coordinator and primary lecturer for the series of talks providing scientific evidence of changes in the Earth’s climate and related trends including rising sea levels, accelerated glacial and ice cap melting, and projected impacts on coastal population centers, food production and human health. The series will conclude with a look back at climate change experiences and adaptations by past civilizations and a look forward to constructive measures that may be taken to address climate change issues at the individual, community and societal levels.

All lectures will be at 7 p.m. in Room 125 of the Science Building on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. Admission will be free and the public is invited to attend.

The series will begin with a presentation on “Climate and Weather” on Feb. 7, with subsequent talks exploring “Ice and Sea Level” on Feb. 14 and “Climate and Human Health” on Feb. 21. The fourth lecture of the series will offer “Lessons from Our Past” on Feb. 28, with the closing talk on March 7 outlining a wide range of actions that may be taken to achieve “A Sustainable Civilization.”

Wagener will be joined during the lecture series by WCSU students who will present additional background from their fields of study in the biological and environmental sciences, meteorology and anthropology. Professor of Anthropology Dr. Laurie Weinstein will participate in the Feb. 21 lecture to provide perspectives on the interactions of past civilizations with the Earth’s climate.

Wagener observed that the annual lecture series, inaugurated at WCSU in 2016, has assumed fresh relevance and urgency in light of the heightened international focus on actions to address climate change and the national political debate of these measures, rekindled by the recent presidential election and the arrival of a new administration.

“In the past, I’ve thought that people may be inclined to ignore climate change, even when they accept it, because they see it as something in the distant future, beyond their time horizon,” Wagener said. With the discussion of climate change policy now expected to heat up in Washington, he noted that scientists have an important role to play in communicating effectively with the public.

“Our goal in this lecture series is to provide the best and most accurate information for the public, so that they may act as informed citizens and make good decisions,” he said. “As an educator, I feel that this is part of my job.”

Wagener said the opening lecture in the series will provide an overview of the impact of climate change on weather patterns regionally and globally, and review findings from diverse scientific studies that, taken together, provide compelling evidence that the climate has been warming since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution nearly two centuries ago. In addition to atmospheric data showing a steady and accelerating rise in climate temperature, he noted, findings from separate studies of global sea levels, ocean temperatures, glacial and ice cap melting, and other indicators “all point in the same direction and give scientists a great amount of confidence that our conclusions are correct — that the Earth is warming, and that human activity is responsible for this.”

The second lecture will present recent studies of ocean temperatures, ice and glacial melt and related factors that have led climate scientists to raise projections for sea level rises worldwide over the next century. “More than 90 percent of the additional heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases goes to warm the ocean, and when the ocean warms, water volume increases and sea levels rise,” he said. Higher ocean temperatures and sea levels in turn contribute to accelerated melting of ice caps and glaciers, driving a further rise in sea levels worldwide, he added.

“The danger we face is that when the sea level rises, it affects scores of major coastal urban centers, from London and Houston to Bangkok, Cairo and Lagos,” he remarked. Without actions to slow or reverse the present rising trend in sea levels, he said, “many of these coastal cities will become uninhabitable by the end of the century.”

The impact of climate change on agricultural production and food supply and the potential spread of tropical diseases to regions in temperate climates will be the focus of the third lecture on “Climate and Human Health.” Wagener and Weinstein will team up in the fourth lecture to discuss how past civilizations, from Polynesia to the Mayan civilization and other indigenous peoples of North America, experienced and responded to climate change.

In the concluding lecture on the theme of sustainability, Wagener said, “we’ll talk about where we go from here and what we need to do.” While he observed that many policy measures require action at the societal and international level, he emphasized that individuals also can make a difference through personal choices and joint efforts within their own communities.

“Every time you buy something, you send a signal in the economic system,” he said. “We need as individuals to reduce our consumption, from smaller houses to smaller cars and smaller meals. We need to move toward renewable energy sources and use far less fossil fuels than we do now. We can take many of these actions on the local, regional and state levels, and we’ll be better for that effort.”

“We want people to take a stake in this issue and to learn what each of us can do to change the outcomes,” he said. “This lecture series will not be about doom and gloom: We want people to know how serious this issue is, but also to leave with a list of things that they can do to help as informed citizens.”

Wagener stressed the importance of taking action now to address climate change in order to mitigate or avoid the most serious consequences for future generations.

“The climate system is like a large ocean liner: Once it’s set in motion, it takes a very long time to stop,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more difficult it will become for our children and grandchildren to cope with these problems. We are all going to have to work harder for the well-being of our grandkids and people we will never meet.”

For more information, contact Wagener at wagenerm@wcsu.edu or the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.



Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.

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