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George Mason University Hosts Global Warming Teach-in
[Rachel's Introduction: "There's something in environmental science and medicine called the precautionary principle, [which] says that basically if there's any chance that not acting will cause disaster, it is morally required for you to act. And, that is where I believe we stand as a university," Storm said.]
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By Evan Moore, Correspondent
Fairfax, Va. -- George Mason University hosted a teach-in on global warming Tuesday, where school officials pledged to do their part to mitigate carbon emission and instructed students that humanity is responsible for warming the earth.

The "Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions" was sponsored by Focus the Nation, an environmental advocacy group, which, as Cybercast News Service previously reported, was set to sponsor similar teach-ins at a thousand U.S. colleges on Jan. 31.

Lenna Storm, coordinator of GMU's Sustainability Office, said that we are living in a "critical time which requires decisive action and commitment" to confront global warming.

The Sustainability Office was formed after GMU President Alan Merten signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment.

Universities signing this pledge commit to conducting an inventory of greenhouse gases that they produce, devise an action plan to reduce or offset their emissions, and then achieve "climate neutrality," meaning the university will make no net contribution to greenhouse gases.

Storm told Cybercast News Service that GMU would achieve "climate neutrality" by reducing emissions as much as financially feasible, and then offset the remainder through carbon and renewable energy credits.

The Sustainability Office will also continue to educate and engage the GMU community on environmental issues and measures to improve GMU's impact on the planet.

Storm said the office was considering programs to reduce the university's paper use, increasing the amount of material recycled and reducing material that is thrown away, reducing water waste, and the use of "green buildings" to be more energy-efficient.

Regarding criticism from segments of the general public and scientific community that the warming of the earth may be a product of natural processes, Storm said, "Being a scientist means that you do need to be skeptical, so I understand where people are coming from. Actually, our [university] president is very emphatic about making sure that the debates continue and that George Mason contributes to that act of discussion.

"I don't think that anything can be discounted," she said. "All the scientific evidence and perspectives have to be taken into consideration.

"There's something in environmental science and medicine called the precautionary principle, [which] says that basically if there's any chance that not acting will cause disaster, it is morally required for you to act. And, that is where I believe we stand as a university," Storm said.

Storm concluded, "I want to just be clear that we intend to encourage a continuing dialogue about these issues, but it's important that the precautionary principle is taken into consideration. We know enough to know that if we take no action, we're as culpable as anyone else for potential disaster, and we want to try to mitigate that."

Barry Klinger, an associate professor in GMU's Department of Climate Dynamics, presented the scientific case for human activity causing global warming in the day's first event.

Saying that humanity had a "fist order effect" on the chemistry of the atmosphere, he showed data indicating that the earth's mean surface temperature has increased, the net mass of polar ice has decreased, sea levels are rising, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has dramatically increased since the Industrial Revolution.

"In a democracy," he said, "we have a tension on complex issues, where you need experts to give you information on, and the fact that in the end, it's not the experts who are going to decide what to do about it.

"So, I think... the experts have to have the humility that even when we are talking about something that we're an expert on, we entertain the possibility that occasionally we could be wrong, and generally the public has to have the humility that, when they entertain opinions on something, you might want to actually listen to the experts before they come to a conclusion."

Campus reacts

Some GMU students were skeptical of the claim that global warming is real and man-made.

Monica Block, chairman of the GMU College Republicans told Cybercast News Service that her organization believed "that the 'global warming crisis' is a hot fashion trend in the academic world and should be ignored as such."

Katie Bowen, communications director for the GMU College Democrats told Cybercast News Service: "We believe that global climate change is caused in part by human activity but also in part by a natural cycle of the environment. It seems as though human activity is speeding up the process through industrialization, etc. I do not believe that the scientific evidence is incorrect, but perhaps it is incomplete."

Rob Piston, a libertarian GMU undergraduate alumnus and current graduate student, concurred with Block and Bowen, telling Cybercast News Service, "I don't believe that the entire scientific community believes that 'man' caused global climate change. I believe warming is occurring but that we still don't know why."

Piston saw a constructive purpose to the teach-in. "I believe in order to have a free and open forum, you must explore all sides of the issue ... not just [say] 'this is truth,' when the truth is yet to be decided," he said. "I believe GMU to be a great academic institution and, as such, issues of the day should be discussed, but both sides should be presented."

Bridgett Graham, a sophomore, said global warming was "real" and "probably man-made," and that the event was "a good thing." She was told by her English professor to attend and did not know why the teacher asked his students to attend an event outside the class's curriculum.

Mark, a junior who asked not to be identified by his last name, was also told by a public relations professor to attend the event. In lieu of class, Mark said, the professor told students to analyze the event from a communications perspective and determine how effective GMU and Focus the Nation were in advancing their position.

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