MU Life Science and Society Program releases lineup for 2016 Symposium

By Madelyne Maag

This story was cross-published at Vox Magazine on Feb. 20, 2016.

Photo Courtesy of Mary Shenk, MU Life Science and Society Program

Photo Courtesy of Mary Shenk, MU Life Science and Society Program

This year’s Life Sciences and Society Symposium at MU will bring in a slew of rockstar scientists, journalists and others to talk about confronting climate change.

“We chose a variety of speakers to better inform our audience of the science behind climate change,” says Mary Shenk, LSSP program director. “We want to let them know how it will affect them and what we all can do to help.”

The main symposium, which runs March 17-19, features Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming; veteran environmental journalist Andrew Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times; and Marcia McNutt, who is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Science and is currently nominated to be the next President of the National Academy of Sciences.

Revkin will talk about the Anthropocene, the proposed geologic age defined by human activity. Revkin said in an email that he will discuss how the media environment is changing just as a drastically as the global environment.

“There have been enormous developments both in science and in the mix of participants in efforts to foster sustainable human progress,” Revkin said in an email. “My goal for this symposium is to lay bare both pitfalls and opportunities in trying to shape a good path in a turbulent age of us.”

Revkin added that the lineup for this year’s symposium was well-organized to help understand the two-way human relationship with climate change.

“Diversity and dialogue are both essential when facing complexity and uncertainty, both environmentally and socially,” Revkin said.

Listed below is the lineup for the main symposium, according to a LSSP newsletter:


Richard Alley, Pennsylvania State University

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Photo Courtesy of the MU Life Science and Society Program

“Big Challenges and Bigger Opportunities”

Saturday, March 12, 10:30 a.m., Monsanto Auditorium

Alley works as an environmental scientist and professor at Pennsylvania State University. Alley was part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Alley will talk about how we can adapt to and slow down climate change in ways that are beneficial to society. “We are the first generation that knows how to use existing technologies to build a sustainable energy system that can power everyone almost forever, economically, environmentally and ethically,” says a summary of Alley’s talk.


Andrew Revkin, The New York Times

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Photo Courtesy of the MU Life Science and Society Program

“A Journalist’s Anthropocene Journey”

Thursday, March 17, 4:00 p.m., Monsanto Auditorium

Revkin is a veteran environmental journalist who writes for The New York Times’ Dot Earth Blog and works as a prize-winning author and educator at Pace University. According to a summary written on his talk, he will “retrace his unique 30-year journey charting the dawn of this era known increasingly as the Anthropocene.” Revkin will also look at the opportunities and downfalls that the media environment faces with its changes and how those changes are just as dramatic as the changes in our global environment.


Marcia McNutt, Science

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Photo Courtesy of the MU Life Science and Society Program

“Climate Intervention: Promise and Peril”

Friday, March 18, 4:00 p.m., Monsanto Auditorium

McNutt works as the editor-in-chief for Science, an international weekly science journal, and is nominated to become the next president of the National Academy of Sciences. In her discussion on greenhouse gas emissions, she will discuss whether we should pursue emergency technological fixes, such as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it underground or modifying Earth’s reflectivity of sunlight (albedo) to cool the planet. “The bottom line is that the safest, cheapest, and surest route to an acceptable climate state is to aggressively curb greenhouse gas emissions now,” says a summary of McNutt’s talk.


Wes Jackson, The Land Institute

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Photo Courtesy of the MU Life Science and Society Program

“Natural Systems Agriculture: New Discoveries, New Opportunities”

Saturday, March 19, 9:00a.m., Monsanto Auditorium

Jackson is the founder and current president of The Land Institute, based in Salina, Kansas, which promotes science-based research into sustainable agriculture. At the symposium, he will talk about the importance and history of agriculture while also presenting the legal and moral relationship it shares with global warming. “After nearly four decades of research involving scientists on five continents, we can imagine perennial grain polycultures replacing annual grain monocultures in the foreseeable future,” a summary of his talk says. “Performing more like nature’s prairie, they will also sequester carbon and make conservation a consequence of production.”


Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia

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Photo Courtesy of the MU Life Science and Society Program

“Zombies, Sports, and Cola: Implications for Weather and Climate Communication”

Saturday, March 19, 9:00 a.m., Monsanto Auditorium

Shepherd teaches geography at the University of Georgia. He is also the director of the university’s atmospheric science program and a member on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s What We Know climate panel. Weather is a popular topic of discussion when it comes to climate change, but according to a summary of Shepherd’s talk, it is “often “clouded” by myths, perceptions, and misinformation.” He will talk about the challenges of discussing weather and climate change.


George Luber, Centers for Disease Control

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Photo Courtesy of the MU Life Science and Society Program

“The Health Consequences of a Changing Climate”

Saturday, March 19th, 2:00 p.m., Monsanto Auditorium

Luber works as an epidemiologist and the associate director for climate change in the Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects at the National Center for Environmental Health.  During the symposium, Huber will discuss some of the impacts that climate change has or will have on our health. “Climate change will be a defining issue for public health in the 21st Century,” says a summary of Luber’s talk.


Naomi Oreskes, Harvard

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Photo Courtesy of the MU Life Science and Society Program

“Climate Change Denial: Where do we go from here?”

Saturday, March 19, 3:30 p.m., Monsanto Auditorium

Oreskes is a co-author of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming, which was also shortlisted for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She teaches the History of Science at Harvard University. Oreskes will touch on what is next for our society as we figure out how to confront our carbon-based energy problem. “We have to accept that governance is necessary; we will not solve the energy-climate problem simply by trusting in the ‘magic of the marketplace’ to get us there,” a summary of her talk says.

In addition to the main symposium schedule, there will be a panel discussing faith, and there will be a film series featuring three movies focused on conservation. The panel on faith will bring in religious leaders and scholars to discuss how different religions react to climate change. The film series will include Chasing Ice, The Island President and Merchants of Doubt. All film times and locations are still to be determined.

For more information on the Life Science and Society Program or their 12th annual symposium please visit the LSSP website.


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