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Climate scientist James Hansen to give keynote talk at Appalachian Studies Conference

February 16, 2017

James Hansen
James Hansen. Courtesy of NASA Public Domain.

Renowned climatologist James Hansen will visit Virginia Tech on March 10.

He will give a 4 p.m. lecture entitled “A Peaceful Revolution: Global Justice for Young People Requires a New Approach” in the Squires Student Center, followed by a question-and-answer period.

The event is free and open to the public as seating allows.

Hansen, who was among the first scientists to argue that the burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet, is the keynote speaker in the 40th Annual Appalachian Studies Conference entitled “Extreme Appalachia.”

His lecture is sponsored by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech, the Appalachian Studies Association, Virginia Tech Appalachian Studies Program, Applied Interdisciplinary Research in Air Lab, Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, College of Natural Resources and Environment, College of Science, Department of Political Science, Fralin Life Science Institute, Pathways Grant from the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, Sigma Xi, and the Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech.

Formerly director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Hansen is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, where he directs the Program on Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions. He was trained in physics and astronomy in the space science program of James Van Allen at the University of Iowa.

Hansen’s early research on the clouds of Venus helped identify their composition as sulfuric acid. Since the late 1970s, he has focused his research on Earth’s climate, especially human-made climate change. He is best known for his testimony to congressional committees on climate change in the 1980s, which helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue.

Hansen was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and was designated by Time magazine in 2006 as one of the 100 most influential people on Earth.

“We chose Dr. Hansen as our conference keynote because we wanted to engage people from the humanities and the sciences across campus in thinking about issues central to Appalachia,” said conference chair Anita Puckett, an associate professor in the Department of Religion and Culture and director of the Appalachian Studies Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “Dr. Hansen is an expert in the effects of extreme resource extraction and use. His lecture will be an important component of this conference.”

The conference’s theme, “Extreme Appalachia,” is meant to represent the impassioned commitments people have to the region as well as the extreme issues it faces: exorbitant natural resource mining and use, underfunding of public education and services, and dismal job opportunities.

“All of these factors together have sparked community resilience and activism that advance a sustainable future for the region,” said Emily Satterwhite, an associate professor in the Department of Religion and Culture and a member of the Appalachian Studies faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Mountaintop mining causes extensive fragmentation of forests, as well as high salt and heavy metal concentrations in nearby freshwater streams that are toxic to fish and birds, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Exposure to coal dust also affects human health; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that surveillance data show a surge in progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung disease.

“We are privileged to serve as one of many Virginia Tech cosponsors of this important and timely lecture by Dr. Hansen,” said Bill Hopkins, director of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. “The issues he will discuss are critically important in our region, but global in nature. There are very few scientists who have Dr. Hansen’s breadth and depth of knowledge on issues related to climate change, cultivated by decades of experience in Washington and around the world.”

The conference is sponsored by the Appalachian Studies Association, which was formed in 1977 by a group of scholars, teachers, and activists passionate about the region. It will be the first time in more than 20 years that Virginia Tech has served as host.

The lecture will take place in Colonial Hall in the Squires Student Center, located at 290 Colonial Ave. in Blacksburg.

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