Skilling, Hansen predict a stormy forecast for Earth at Benedictine event

April 25, 2016

Lisle, Illinois ~ On the eve of Earth Day 2016, more than 500 people filled Benedictine University’s Goodwin Hall auditorium to hear former NASA scientist James Hansen, Ph.D., and WGN-TV’s chief meteorologist Tom Skilling talk about the rapid and possibly irreversible changes that are happening in our environment.

Hansen proposed a plan to place a fee of $10 per ton on fossil fuels, and increase that fee by $10 per ton every year.

“After 10 years, U.S. emissions would go down 30 percent, and after 20 years, they’d go down about 55 percent,” he said. “It’s a way to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.”

Hansen said the fee would help the environment by spurring people to move away from fossil fuels and stimulate the economy. He argued that it would help make the price of fossil fuels more honest to the total effects they have on society, such as pollution, and on human health, such as asthma. He suggested that the money collected from the fee could be equally distributed to all legal residents as an incentive to reduce their fossil fuel use.

The event, “Energy and Climate Change: How Can Justice Be Achieved for Young People?” was held on April 21 as part of the University’s efforts to bring experts to campus to discuss important community issues.

Phil Hardy, Ph.D., director of the Center for Civic Leadership at Benedictine University, greets WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling during a climate change discussion on campus.Hansen cited fossil fuels as one of the key factors of climate change. While humans are enjoying the benefits of fossil fuels – which were a key reason for industrialization – the effects of their continued high-volume use will create disasters such as heat waves, droughts, flash floods and stronger storms, he said.

Hansen also fears that if immediate action is not taken to lower global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, even more serious consequences such as species extermination, ice sheet disintegration and rising sea levels are on the horizon.

"A lot of politicians are now saying the right words about our planet in peril, but they're not, in fact, taking any actions that would solve the problem," Hansen said.

He encouraged Benedictine students to protect their future world by getting involved. As a step in the right direction, he suggested they join CitizensClimateLobby.org, a nonprofit organization devoted to lobbying for lower CO2 emissions.

Not all in attendance were climate change believers. During the question-and-answer segment, one audience member insisted that global warming was false, adding that he and more than 31,000 scientists signed a petition stating they did not believe humans had any effect on climate change.

“That is an ideological position,” Hansen responded. “I understand where it’s coming from, but it’s not science.”

Michael S. Brophy, Ph.D., M.F.A., president of Benedictine University, speaks with NASA scientist James Hansen, Ph.D., and WGN-TV’s chief meteorologist Tom Skilling during a discussion on climate change.Skilling added that, “People who looked into the 31,000 scientists who signed this petition (found that) the vast majority have no climate background. When they’d taken the list apart, they found out they have Charles Darwin listed on there, and the Spice Girls.”

Skilling revealed that at first he was not an advocate for climate change, but like the Earth’s climate, his opinion on the issue changed over time.

“I didn’t naturally buy what I was hearing,” he said. “When I heard the arctic was going to melt, I thought, ‘Well, you’re going to have to prove that to me.’”

He said he became a believer and advocate for climate change through extensive research and by observing scientific models that demonstrate how humans are impacting climate.

Though he labels himself “politically independent,” Hansen gave a nod to U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville), a former Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory physicist and longtime advocate of combating climate change who was in attendance. Hansen lamented that more politicians will not prioritize the future of our planet above their next election.

Skilling and Hansen were invited to speak at Benedictine by the University’s nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Civic Leadership, which seeks to bring dynamic speakers to campus so that students and the larger community can immerse themselves in multiple issues and topics of public concern.

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Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among “America’s Top Colleges” for the fifth consecutive year in 2015, and the University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fifth largest in the Chicago area.

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