Asking, “How do we achieve a more equitable society, sharing resources, managing our environment on a global scale?” Raymond Bradley began his April 4 talk entitled “Our Planet, Under Pressure: Current Status and Future Prospects.” Delivering Commonwealth Honors College’s third annual Daffodil Lecture on Sustainability and the Environment, Bradley captivated the audience with his comparison of today’s climate to past climates and his suggestions for achieving a more sustainable and happier future.
He addressed the international “problems of sustainability,” such as the exponentially increasing world population, growing greenhouse gas emissions, the high number of weather-related natural disasters, ocean acidification, transformation of terrestrial biosphere, and biodiversity challenges, providing many scientific graphs, charts, and statistics to emphasize his points. In just fifty minutes, the UMass Amherst Distinguished Professor of Geosciences covered 4.5 billion years of Earth’s climate history.
The facts he presented astounded the audience. Half of the world’s population lives in urban centers. Ninety percent of the mammalian biomass, the combined weight of all mammals on Earth, is made up of humans and domesticated animals, whereas ten thousand years ago, that figure was just 0.1%. He added a bit of a humor to his analysis of population growth, stating, “The world population has doubled since I was a graduate student.”
According to Bradley, climatologists and social scientists would agree that the world has experienced unprecedented changes over the last century. Issues like overconsumption, obesity, and overuse of resources, which plague developed nations must be reconciled with the extreme poverty and low standard of living developing nations are experienced. Bradley urged for a reevaluation of priorities. “We measure everything in terms of GDP [gross domestic product], in terms of consumerism, consumption, that cannot continue… We need to develop a new measure of well-being,” he asserted, suggesting the GDP + or the GNH (Gross National Happiness) as possible alternative measurements.
By providing a balanced analysis of biophysical systems and human systems, the audience could fully comprehend the problems of sustainability he described. Scientists document and track changes easily and social scientists research the stresses on societies, but Bradley argues that one vital element is missing to combat climate change: strong governance. He admitted, “I recognize that what I’ve been describing to you is a pretty depressing picture… but we have to grapple with it” and work toward solutions through individual behavior and by pressuring politicians.
“We have to participate in government at every level… and demand of our political leaders the reforms and changes that we all know need to take place,” he insisted. Although he acknowledged the significance of high-profile meetings of influential leaders, like the upcoming Rio+20: Make it Happen United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and called for the creation of a UN Sustainable Development Council, similar to the Security Council, he also stressed simpler ways to affect change. “We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Think globally, act locally.’ We must do that.”
Borrowing a phrase from Martin Luther King, Jr., Bradley ended his lecture by encouraging citizens to fully participate in democracy— at the voting booth, at school board debates over science curricula, at presidential debates about climate change— due to “the fierce urgency of now.”
Bradley's talk was sponsored by Commonwealth Honors College and the honor society Phi Kappa Phi. The theme of the lecture reflects UMass Amherst’s leadership in green research and sustainability.
Bradley conducts research in climatology and paleoclimatology, with a particular focus on the post-glacial period (the last 12,000 years). He has written or edited 12 books on climatic change, including “Global Warming and Political Intimidation: How Politicians Cracked Down on Scientists as the Earth Heated Up,” and authored more than 180 articles on the topic. He has been an advisor to the national science foundations of six countries, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Research Council, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program.