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Our Environmental Future


Youths speak minds on environment, infuse conference with hope for future

Posted by Don West on April 22, 2012 at 6:45 PM

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 12:00 am.

By Carrie Ann KnauerTimes Staff Writer

When attending a four-hour program on environmental topics such as global climate change, extreme weather events and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, one doesn’t usually expect to walk away feeling encouraged.

But thanks to some very passionate students, many of the attendees at Planet Carroll’s keynote address and panel discussions left McDaniel College Saturday with a new sense of hope about the environment’s future.

“The enthusiasm of these students is nice to see,” said Sandy Zebal, chair of the Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council. “It makes me feel more optimistic, more hopeful.”

The event had two main discussion topics, one on sustainability and the other on global climate change, and featured some big name speakers from the environmental and land use planning fields, such as Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Richard Josephson, director of the Maryland Department of Planning. But each panel discussion also had a student representative, which many audience members said were just as, if not more, impressive than the star guests.

Joseph Wright, of McDaniel College, spoke on the sustainability panel with strong opinions about trying to bring people who don’t see themselves as environmentalists to understand why these issues are important. Wright said it’s time to stop talking about the science and purely environmental values and start showing people that protecting the environment is also the best way to boost the economy and people’s quality of life.

“If you can hit somebody in their wallet, they’re going to believe you,” Wright said.

He also challenged those in the audience who are environmentally-minded to become more politically involved. Local elected officials often seek short-term economical successes over making tough decisions that will have the best impact on the environment, and economy, in the long run. He encouraged the audience to get more involved by contacting their local officials, and when they don’t live up to regulations set by higher levels of authority, take them to task for it.

Eric Kazyak, a student at the University of Maryland College Park who sat on the climate change panel, said he gets frustrated with seeing the major discussion in the media about climate change focusing on whether it’s real or not.

At this point, most people have made up their minds one way or the other, and it would be more beneficial to focus on steps to improve efficiency and make sustainability a priority, he said, which will help the economy and the earth no matter what.

“It doesn’t matter whether you believe in this or that, it’s good for everyone to make these changes,” he said.

One of the audience’s questions to the climate change panel was how to deal with climate change deniers.

“You have to make it hit home with the person — talk about economics, energy independence — these are issues that almost everybody embraces,” Kazyak said.

But it’s also important to show the global ramifications of these issues, he said. For example, 20 million people in Bangladesh will have to move to higher ground if sea rise happens the way that scientists are predicting it will, and droughts in Africa are getting worse than they have ever been, he said, which will lead to more agriculture failures and famine.

“Draw from the moral obligation to take action for others as well as yourself,” Kazyak said.

Audience member Richard Soisson, a member of the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, said he was very impressed with the youths that participated in the event and how willing they are to stand up for the environment.

“It’s going to take individuals to correct these problems,” he said, and individuals can lead to action at a higher level as well.

In addition to the student speakers, a group of youths from Venturing Crew 202, a coed offshoot of the Boy Scouts of America, had several of their environmental demonstration stations on display, including a board comparing different types of light bulbs and their energy use, with the bulbs lit, and an electricity-generating bicycle. Attendees could view the stations and ask the students questions during the break between discussions and during the lunch provided afterwards.

Natalie Price, a freshman at McDaniel, did some of the behind-the-scenes preparations for the event and was excited to see it come to fruition.

“I was especially impressed with the younger speakers,” she said, and to be able to compare their viewpoints with the older guests.

Don West, one of the coordinators of Planet Carroll, said that he was pleased with Saturday’s event; he only wishes there had been more diversity in the audience.

“Unfortunately the people that really need to hear these things, need to be made aware of the situations, are able to choose not to be aware,” West said. “Some of those folks are in positions of power and decision making, and that’s a concern for me.”

West said he was proud of all the work the volunteers put into coordinating a whole week of environmental events, with Saturday’s panel discussions serving as the highlight of the week.

“I’m happy about what happened, I’m proud of the effort everybody put in to make it happen,” he said. “I just wish it could have an effect long term.”

The program had about 70 attendees Saturday and was filmed by the Community Media Center to be broadcast on local cable. To find out when the panel discussions will be broadcast, visit www.carrollmediacenter.org.

Reach staff writer Carrie Ann Knauer at 410-857-7874 or [email protected]

© 2012 Carroll County Times.

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