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Damage to environment can be reversed, scientist says

POSTED: May 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The day after Earth Day, Gainesville State College professor Sudhanshu Panda offered his own version of an "inconvenient truth."

"I am not Al Gore. I have no political opinions," he said. "I am just a scientist."

Panda, who teaches global information systems and environmental science, gave a presentation on global warming at the college Wednesday. His talk was sponsored by Students for a Progressive Society.

He said the Earth’s climate has always had natural fluctuations, but the changes in recent years have been far more dramatic than anything previously observed.

"Since 1990, we have had the seven warmest years on record," Panda said. "There has been an exponential rise in temperatures."

He believes the change is of such magnitude that it cannot be explained by natural phenomena, and human activity is a major contributing factor.

In a slide show filled with charts and graphs, Panda outlined what’s causing the Earth to heat up, then showed the widespread and devastating consequences.

By now, he said, it’s clear to scientists that something is out of balance. He cited warmer oceans, rising sea levels, melting polar ice caps and thawing permafrost.

For example, in Panda’s home country of India, snow in the Himalayan mountains now melts quickly in the spring, flooding lowland areas. Then by the time summer comes, the snowmelt is all gone and there is a shortage of water.

"There have been excess droughts worldwide in recent years," Panda said. "There have been huge dust storms, very active wildfire seasons and killer heat waves."

Taken individually, each of these incidents could be regarded as a momentary aberration. But viewed collectively, he said, they provide overwhelming evidence that something unusual is going on.

Panda said he is especially disturbed about deforestation, which he called "the worst enemy of mankind."

Cutting down trees, he said, "removes a lot of plants that would otherwise be pulling carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) out of the atmosphere. This is happening mainly in developing countries, but you can also see this in Atlanta."

The good news is that while humans may be contributing to the climate problem, they can also be part of the solution.

"We can make a difference," Panda said. "Try to plant a minimum of one tree. We have 300 million people (in the U.S.). That’s 300 million trees."

He enumerated many other steps that people can take to slow down global warming, including conserving electricity, driving less, buying products that generate less waste and even switching to a vegetarian diet.

Daniel McGrail, a student who is dual-enrolled at Johnson High School and Gainesville State College, said he liked those suggestions.

"If even a few people learned something today and started changing the way they do things, it would be worth it," he said. "I think the important thing is to get the conversation started."

Jonathan Brown, a Gainesville State student majoring in sociology, said it’s unfortunate that some people have tried to make global warming a political issue instead of rationally discussing the facts.

"At least here, a scientist had a chance to be heard," Brown said. "Most scientists don’t have public-relations folks to get the message out. The anti-science people are a lot more organized."



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