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Renowned deaf environmental scientist warns of consequences of climate change

Image: Deaf internationally-recognized environmental scientist Andrew Manning (second from left) is shown with President Hurwitz, Dr. Caroline Solomon, a professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Mathematics, and Dr. Brian Greenwald, a professor in the Department of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Sociology and a member of the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, following Manning's lecture on February 4. Manning also presented in Solomon's "Marine Biology" class. (Photo by Megan Clancy)

Deaf internationally-recognized environmental scientist Andrew Manning (second from left) is shown with President Hurwitz, Dr. Caroline Solomon, a professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Mathematics, and Dr. Brian Greenwald, a professor in the Department of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Sociology and a member of the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, following Manning's lecture on February 4. Manning also presented in Solomon's "Marine Biology" class. (Photo by Megan Clancy)

Anyone with an inquisitive mind couldn't help being drawn to a lecture with an intriguing title of "The Interconnectedness of Wyatt Earp, Cinderella, Gollum, Ostriches, Tobacco, Terry Pratchett, London Eye, Star Trek, Coca Cola, Socks, and Jonah Lomu OR Studying Climate Change with Atmospheric Measurements of Greenhouse Gases." 

This whimsical approach of linking seeming unrelated subjects to receding glaciers, rising sea levels, extreme weather changes, rising temperatures, and dying coral reefs was used by Dr. Andrew Manning, a deaf internationally-recognized environmental scientist, to make his audience aware of these and other dire environmental phenomena affecting planet Earth.  

Manning, from Wellington, New Zealand, and who holds a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Calif., came to campus on February 4 to talk about the effects on the environment of mankind's over-dependence on fossil fuels. His presentation was part of Gallaudet's 150th Anniversary Sesquicentennial Lecture Series.

Manning uses pop culture icons to help laymen understand the complex subject matter he delves in. For example, he compares his work to the fairytale heroine Cinderella's-unglamorous and netting low wages.  He calls politicians who ignore the imminent dangers of fossil fuels "ostriches." GOLLUM-a well-known character in J.R.R. Tolkein's fantasy novels-also stands for global oxygen laboratory links measurement, which Manning developed to allow scientists in different countries to use a standardized way to measure accurate atmospheric oxygen levels in the air.  He points to a sculpture, "Co2morrow," with lights that change color with fluctuating concentrations of carbon dioxide, displayed at the Royal Academy of the Arts in London, as an excellent way to increase awareness.

Since 2006, Manning has been working at the Center for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, School of Environmental Sciences, at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in England. At UEA, Manning established the Carbon Related Atmospheric Measurement (CRAM) Laboratory, continuing his research of  greenhouse gases and teaching students about the importance and implications of climate change. He is one of about 200 environmental scientists worldwide who measure carbon dioxide (CO2) and/or oxygen (O2) in the atmosphere.  Manning has served on many national and international projects, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He also was involved with reports produced by the IPCC, which won the 2007 Nobel Prize with Albert Gore Jr.

Before his campus-wide presentation in Elstad Auditorium, Manning talked with students in Dr. Caroline Solomon's "Marine Biology" class about climate change and how politics can hinder the progress of reducing the use of fossil fuels Through his discussion about possible effects of climate change, Manning encouraged the students to think about energy conversation, rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and receding glaciers.

Manning practices what he teaches: he has not owned a car for 15 years, and his house uses energy generated by solar panels.  He said the high cost of switching to alternative energy has proven to be a deterrent for many people, but with government support, it can become more affordable. "China uses 20 percent of the fossil fuels Americans and Europeans use," said Manning, and uses more solar panels that America does. 

"Most of the world is deaf to toward the problems of climate change," Manning said.  He added that the media, policymakers, and the general public are resistant to the reality of climate change. But the facts contradict their denial: Some areas of the globe are warming faster others, as evidenced by rising sea levels, receding glaciers, and less snow. "I believe that it will become four degrees warmer in five to 10 years," Manning said.

"As the planet gets warmer, it will destroy all kinds of biodiversity in the world.  It will destroy natural ecosystems, and it will destroy coral reefs," Manning said.  The consequence of climate change could result in extreme weather, such as catastrophic flooding. These disasters, commonly known as 100-year floods because of their 1 percent statistical probability of occurring in a given year, could increase to about 10 percent, he said.  Furthermore, climate change disrupts many cycles in nature, which taken alone may not seem serious, but have a ripple effects that lead to dire consequences. For example, changes in global temperature modifies migratory habits of birds, which in turn cause an overpopulation of  earthworms, which birds feed on, which contributes to deforestation.

Three major types of greenhouse gasses contribute to global warming: CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide, but CO2-a byproduct of coal, oil, and natural gas (methane)--is the primary culprit, Manning explained. "Scientists need to understand how Earth responds to fossil fuels," Manning said. Scientists measure carbon dioxide levels dating back as far as 600,000 years by drilling and taking samples from ice cores in Antarctica.  The result is a steady march upward in the ratio of parts per million (ppm) of CO2. "The amount of fossil fuels that we are burning is enough to increase the atmospheric concentration by five ppm every year," he said.

Farming methods also affect climate change, Manning said. In the U.S., cows are typically kept within an enclosed space and are fed corn, resulting in high concentrations of methane gas, compared to the lower concentrations found in free-roaming grass-fed cows.    

On the other hand, "we are very lucky that the forests and oceans absorb half of the carbon dioxide we emit," Manning said. A caveat, he added, is no one knows how long this will continue. Derrick Behm, '13, exhibition researcher and writer for the Gallaudet University Museum, asked Manning, "What can we at Gallaudet do?"  Manning responded with three ideas: be an example to others with environmentally-friendly practices, lead by example such as getting solar panels for your house, and talk to politicians and friends about climate change. 

Biology major Anna McCall from Detroit, Mich., said she was motivated both by Manning's message and by the prestige he holds in the science field. "Manning showed that deaf people do not have barriers to success in science, and he was able to explain climate change well to show its impact on earth.  It is important for people to spread awareness about the climate change situation [and to] reduce their use of electricity, gas, and fossil fuels." She said she has started cutting back on TV, phone, and laptop usage.

Manning also mentioned the accomplishments of his deaf sister, Victoria Manning, G-'94, who earned a master's degree and returned to New Zealand as the country's only deaf mental health counselor. She also engaged in a five-year campaign to bring relay services in New Zealand, which were established in 2002. Victoria Manning also succeeded in having her home country recognize New Zealand Sign Language as an official language in 2006.

Follow Dr. Andrew Manning's work here.

--By Megan Clancy

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