City Environment Climate shift in Athens: What Ohio University is doing to weather the storm By Abby Neff Posted on October 3, 2019 7 min read 1 2 378 The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway at midday. Photo courtesy of the Athens County Visitor's Bureau. Following the Global Climate Strikes during the final week of September, discussion surrounding sustainability and the consequences of climate change persists nationwide, including here in Athens. How will changes in climate affect the region? On Oct. 1, Ohio experienced it’s hottest autumn day in history, forcing school districts like Columbus City Schools to shut down because of the heat. Excessive heat can cause consequences such as droughts. Athens County has been abnormally dry, with 57% of the state experiencing the same dryness. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment published in late 2018, climate change is a threat to the Midwest’s agriculture industry and its food supply. Flooding is another natural disaster that is exacerbated by rising temperatures. The Ohio River has a history of excessive flooding, including a fatal flood in 1937, with a recent flood occurring February 2018. Geoff Buckley, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, studies Appalachian issues and the impacts of environmental disasters, and he believes regions like Athens should be concerned about extreme weather events. The concept of presses and pulses can deteriorate an environment over time, Buckley said. Presses are long term pressures like drought, while pulses are “shocks to the system,” such as flooding and tornadoes, he continued. Both present serious dangers to the environment. In a statement released by the Ohio Environmental Council in August, “deforestation, agriculture and land degradation are responsible for 23% of the rise in human-caused greenhouse gases worldwide,” following a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). What is Ohio U and Athens doing about it? Ohio U signed an initiative to be carbon neutral by 2075 in 2007 and launched the Office of Sustainability in 2011. Ohio U plans to propose a refined Climate and Sustainability plan — including a five-year plan — which will be available later this year. Ryan Fogt, a professor of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences, works as the Sustainable Administration Hub Coordinator for the department and believes Ohio U is on the right path toward carbon neutrality. “I’m encouraged by our university’s action, and I think we’re doing a lot here, but there’s still a lot of work yet to do,” he said. Other faculty are encouraged by Athens’ participation to combat climate change, with organizations like Indivisible Appalachian Ohio and Village Bakery attempting to mitigate the local effects of climate shift. Austin Babrow, a professor of environmental communication in the Scripps College of Communication, is one of those faculty members. “Many (people) are much more active and much more engaged and much more vocal, much more willing to put themselves on the line (than) a faculty,” he said. Who is being affected most by climate change? According to the federal climate report, communities with lower income and marginalized populations are the most vulnerable to the extreme weather events prompted by climate change. “(The) problem that rural areas have is isolation,” Buckley said. “A region’s ability to respond to these events is put to the test.” As the many parts of the country consider moving toward an environmentally conscious economy, poorer regions of the country are left behind. Babrow, of the Scripps College, studies the nuances of this national push toward a greener industry. “People in this part of the world not only don’t get the benefit of the response (to climate change), they also are left behind as the rest of the country shifts to sustainable energy and green sustainable business,” he explained. According to a national report, Athens is the eighth poorest city in the United States, which makes people living in the region more susceptible to damages caused by natural disasters. “These folks who have contributed very little (to climate change) are missing out on the opportunity to participate in and have the benefit of shift to a new economy,” Babrow said. Editor’s Note: This story was updated to rearrange the order of its content.