Publick Occurrences hosts climate change panel

Abigail Nilsson –Staff Writer

Publick Occurrences, sponsored by Rhode Island College, the Providence Journal and Leadership Rhode Island, held a panel last Monday evening to discuss climate change and how it relates to Rhode Islanders. 102 of the 375 audience members were randomly given clickers to vote on climate change related questions. 98 percent of the voters believed that climate change is real and 82 percent agreed that humans are to blame.

Rhode Island has 420 miles of iconic coastlines which are constantly changing due to beach erosion, floods and rising sea levels. Nicole Hernandez Hammer, a climate-change and environmental justice consultant and panelist at Publick Occurrences stated, “We’ve got about a decade to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

Audience members wanted to know what is being done about climate change. Lauren Maunus, 21, asked, “why are we not talking about a Green New Deal?” She was standing with a group of younger audience member’s holding a banner that read, “WE DEMAND A GREEN NEW DEAL.” The Green New Deal (GND) is a proposed program created by New York Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to address climate change and economic inequality.        

Panelist Monica Huertas, a founding member of Providence’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee and activist for Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), could not emphasize enough that families living in low income housing are at a great disadvantage by living in areas where flooding is common and that they are likely to have an extraordinary financial setback after a flood. Several panelists agreed that minorities often live next to toxic facilities or flood zones and are often not disclosed this information when they move in.

This tied in with the agreement among panelists that communication is one of the greatest setbacks related to climate change. They believe that it is difficult to reach many people to convey and emphasize the severity of this issue. The panelists were in agreement that scaring people about climate change is not the best method for communication.

Sunshine Menezes, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute of Marine and Environmental Reporting, feels that we need to hold politicians accountable for promises made about environmental protection. Other panelists agree that everyone needs to be involved, especially influencers on different media platforms including musicians and other artists. “Getting complete involvement in these issues is a crucial part of the future,” said Barnaby Evans, artistic and executive director of WaterFire Providence.

There is little doubt that climate change is real according to audience members, but they wanted to know what is being done about it in Rhode Island, or even on a federal level. It was mentioned among panelists that it is difficult for officials on both state and federal levels to agree on one single solution.

President Sanchez was proud to announce that Rhode Island College is taking steps in a green initiative with the recent renovations and has changed all of the light bulbs in the school to LED in an effort to conserve energy. Communicating the urgency and taking steps to protect communities infrastructure, and fuel efficiency were some of the points that panelists focused on making to audience members to help protect against climate change.