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Y's Men take on a global debate

Published 10:14 am, Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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What of the nation's hot topics today is global warming. As global leaders meet this week for a summit on climate change, the underlining scientific data -- as well as how it should affect policy changes -- remain highly controversial.

Dr. David Downie, director of environmental studies and associate professor of politics at Fairfield University, told members of the Y's Men Thursday morning that although there are no easy answers, discussions about this serious issue should continue without the political overtones it inevitably generates.

His detailed presentation provided a framework for this week's United Nations Conference on Global Warming in Copenhagen. However, he also offered a context for the highly volatile e-mails written among British scientists that were recently leaked to the media. Although Downie said he was shocked by these events -- and admitting that scientific data could be manipulated to support either side of the climate change debate -- he insisted that the fact that temperatures are increasing overall is irrefutable.

Moreover, Downie vehemently opposes the idea of having political "sides" as it pertains to creating environmental policy.

During the question-and-answer period, though, one member of the Y's Men commented that it's difficult to override the "political nature" of the issue.

Downie attempted to derail some of the more controversial arguments by detailing how global warming evolved.

"We've known about the greenhouse effect for a long time," Downie explained to the retired men who filled Saugatuck Congregational Church's community room last week. "We've also known for a long time that if you add more gases, the effect will get worse. It is really that simple."

In addition, since the global population continuously increases the greenhouse gases, it is reasonable to assume that environmental temperatures would also increase.

"This is the general consensus in the environmental and political community," he explained. "Global warming causes climate change."

And, he continued, it's logical to assume that "if you keep adding more stuff, the impact will get worse."

The effects of global warming are also indisputable, he said. These include the availability of water, damage to ecosystems leading to extinction, coastal erosion and economic consequences and social instability that result when people lose their homes through extreme weather conditions.

"Not everyone believes all of this, though," Downie conceded.

In addition, the current debate centers around not only the impact of these causations but also how to decide which countries are to be more financially responsible for mitigating these adverse effects.

As an expert in environmental policy, Downie's work involves managing the scientific facts. At the conclusion of his discussion, he emphasized the need to continue the debate about what to do about the risks associated with climate change.

"This is especially important considering the possible catastrophic effects involved," he added.

He challenged those present to think about the issue, "as individuals, businesses, a country and globally."

Downie also offered comments about ways to become more energy-efficient in the United States through using solar and wind technologies.

Much like the current global debate on the causes and effects of global warming, though, there were opposing points of view among the Y's Men, although one member commented that he appreciated Downie's "balanced presentation." The audience member also noted that he would have liked a written summary so that he could show it to his children and grandchildren.

A resident of Fairfield, Downie was an educator and researcher at Columbia University before joining Fairfield University. As a leader in the field of environmental politics, Downie was involved in several policy negotiations, including acting as director of the Global Roundtable on Climate Change from 2004 to 2008.