As environmental causes go, there is no more important issue today than climate change, says Mark Izeman, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"This is the issue," said Izeman, who has worked on environmental causes for more than 20 years. "It's the most talked about environmental issue. It's a global threat. It crosses many different disciplines, and coming up with solutions will require different types of people working together."
Izeman spoke to a standing-room only crowd Wednesday in the Picknelly Dining Room at Holyoke Community College, brought to campus by Student Activities and HCC's Integrated Learning Programs.
In attendance were members of the HCC community who study a wide range of different subjects, from environmental science and sustainability to English, nutrition and psychology, a testament to the relevance and appeal of the message.
Izeman began his talk with question:
"Does anyone here not believe human activities contribute to climate change? Do we have any doubters in the house?"
No one raised a hand.
"Well," he said, "that makes my job a lot easier."
Izeman presented some statistics, but not many. One of his few Power Point slides stated that Earth's average temperature had risen 1.4 degrees during the past century and is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5 degrees during the next.
The major cause, he said, is the burning of fossil fuels.
He drew analogies between the threat from climate change and the threat from nuclear weapons. However, "Unlike the nuclear threat," he said, "we're not just talking about one big explosion. Climate change builds up a little every day, which makes it harder to keep track of."
Izeman said the debate around climate change has long been trapped in academia, but that has changed. The trend is toward increasing environmental activism, and one of the issues that has found traction as a focus of protest is fracking.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of pumping water, sand and chemicals into the earth to release natural gas.
Fracking is not a new process -- Izeman said it has been used for many years in less populated, outlying areas such as Alaska -- but as companies now seek to use this method near more populated areas it has become a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue because of the dangers fracking presents to the environment, especially possible contamination of drinking water.
Izeman also talked about food and how commercial agriculture has become a threat not only to the environment but to public health.
"We have a broken food system," he said. "There is a crisis in this country with increasing rates of diabetes and obesity."
He shared a few more statistics: 60 percent of all federal subsidies go to 10 percent of farmers; 6 percent of farms produce 70 percent of all the food; farms consume 20 percent of available energy and consume 70 percent of all the drinking water.
"And yet," he said, "40 percent of all food grown is wasted."
He said a food movement has sprung up in the United States in response to growing concerns about our broken agricultural system and the government's inability to make any substantive reforms.
The food movement is regionally based and seeks to create distribution systems that support local farms and healthier food options.
The issues of fracking and food are also related, Izeman said, because many farmers have begun leasing their land for fracking.
"They can make more money leasing their land than they can from farming," he said.
Photos: (Left) HCC student Awabena Boamah, from Agawam, talks to guest speaker Mark Izeman, right. (Right) Environmental lawyer Mark Izeman talks at Holyoke Community Colllege.