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Huntington community explores ‘Paris to Pittsburgh’ documentary for Earth Day

Huntington+community+members+view+%E2%80%9CParis+to+Pittsburgh%E2%80%9D+climate+change+documentary+in+Marshall%E2%80%99s+Memorial+Student+Center+prior+to+panel+discussion+with+local+environmental+experts.
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Huntington community explores ‘Paris to Pittsburgh’ documentary for Earth Day

Huntington community members view “Paris to Pittsburgh” climate change documentary in Marshall’s Memorial Student Center prior to panel discussion with local environmental experts.

Huntington community members view “Paris to Pittsburgh” climate change documentary in Marshall’s Memorial Student Center prior to panel discussion with local environmental experts.

Douglas Harding

Huntington community members view “Paris to Pittsburgh” climate change documentary in Marshall’s Memorial Student Center prior to panel discussion with local environmental experts.

Douglas Harding

Douglas Harding

Huntington community members view “Paris to Pittsburgh” climate change documentary in Marshall’s Memorial Student Center prior to panel discussion with local environmental experts.

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In 2015, the Paris Climate Accord historically convened leaders from 195 countries in collective agreement to combat the consequences of climate change and to limit global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his decision to remove the United States from the agreement, saying, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Today, despite decades of scientific consensus that climate change is real, caused by humans and poses a serious and unprecedented threat to humanity, countless communities from “Paris to Pittsburgh” have galvanized local, grassroots renewable energy movements as a response to a lack of any substantial legislative action, according to the National Geographic documentary  “Paris to Pittsburgh,” which was screened Monday in the Memorial Student Center.

The day following Trump’s announcement, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, under pressure from thousands of local citizens, signed an executive order requiring the city to follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement anyway, paving the way for similar grassroots movements across the country aiming to do the same.

Portrayed throughout the documentary are several of the hundreds of American cities, states, universities and businesses that have since pledged to also follow the climate agreement, while implementing various other renewable energy programs to invigorate the industry.

“There is a revolution underway to tackle the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions and the ways people move around, build structures, grow food and generate electricity,” said Rachel Brosnahan, narrator of the “Paris to Pittsburgh” documentary. “As coal plants continue to close, clean energy is creating jobs, growing the economy and lowering emissions.”

As the documentary stated, there are now more renewable energy jobs in Pennsylvania than in coal, natural gas and oil combined. In the U.S., there are more than 15 times the amount of renewable energy jobs as there are coal jobs.

“We can save the environment and grow the economy at the same time,” Brosnahan said. “The impacts of climate change are now in everyone’s backyard. From California to Iowa to Florida, climate change is not coming— it is already here.”

During a panel discussion following the documentary screening, Amy Parsons-White, Marshall University’s sustainability manager, said the department has been developing over the past year to incorporate similar initiatives as presented in the film.

“We are working on starting recovery groups to help people get back to work and on starting the first commercial compost facility in West Virginia,” Parsons-White said. “The facility would take organic materials on campus and compost them to sell the dirt and start agribusiness at the university.”

The facility, which will render the university 70% waste-free on its opening day, should be ready to function, contributions underway, by spring 2020, Smith said.

Parsons-White said she and the sustainability department are making progress involving the city of Huntington in their renewable resource plans as well.

“Our goal is to be the greenest city in West Virginia within the next few years, and we think that goal is completely realistic,” Smith said. “We are the people who live here, and we have the power. If the city officials don’t want to help us, we can change that; we can change them.”

Smith said she believes the crucial factor which will sway those who may not currently agree about combatting climate change could be the economic opportunities of renewable energy.

“Our compost facility is going to add green infrastructure to the state, provide jobs and save the university over $500,000 a year,” Smith said. “They laughed at me when I said I wanted to start a compost facility, until they saw the business plan and a potential for profit.”

This was a sentiment also expressed by panelists and Marshall biological science department professors Robin O’Keefe and Anne Axel.

“In the future, it is likely the economics will be such that we will have no choice left (except to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy),” O’Keefe said.

Politicians, those in power and those invested in communities across the world will be forced to recognize the impacts of climate change eventually, he said.

“Wait until we have to shut down Miami, which is something we will really have to do,” O’Keefe said. “Then, we will get their attention.”

Axel, a professor who specializes in landscape ecology and studies communities suffering from droughts and various other environmental circumstances exacerbated by climate change, also suggested the route to effectively combatting climate change is intertwined with economics.

“We need a new economy tied to sustainability,” Axel said.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]

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