By Samantha Hilyer
The dormitory heating and cooling system is a prominent way climate change is affecting SVC students, believes Dr. Peter Smyntek, associate professor of interdisciplinary science. Rising temperatures mean Latrobe gets an early spring, he said, so the dorm heat is on while the weather is still reasonably warm – leaving students at an uncomfortable temperature.
The Latrobe area at large also demonstrates climate change’s impact, Smyntek stated, through heavier rainfalls and the early spring tendency.
“Just in the last year or two, [there was] some of the highest recorded precipitation in the Greater Pittsburgh area that I am aware of,” he said.
Saint Vincent has made adjustments for a greener lifestyle with new buildings, Smyntek noted. There is a large solar panel installed on top of the new library and geothermal technology in both the Dupré and the Fred Rogers Center.
Another alteration in recent years was switching from the use of coal to natural gas for heating which, Smyntek explained, was a substantial reduction in the campus’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“I think one thing students can do is advocate for some of these changes to occur more quickly, to let [the administration] know that they care about this,” he said, “not only from a comfort perspective, but [to show] they care about stewardship of the environment which is a Benedictine hallmark.”
Smyntek said students’ voices matter.
“I encourage them to not be afraid of making suggestions or speaking up.”
A very prominent theme in Smyntek’s Earth science classes is climate change, defined by NASA Science as a “long-term change in the average weather patterns,” which includes both naturally occurring changes and those caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels.
The theme is prominent because climate change impacts both socio-economic factors and the scientific world, Smyntek said, and because by teaching this topic, he brings awareness to others about what consequences their actions will have on climate.
"You don’t want people feeling hopeless. You want them to be concerned because it is a concern, but it is not a hopeless situation." - Peter Smyntek
“People argue about how much of climate change that we are responsible for. Ultimately, we are responsible for emitting greenhouse gases, and greenhouse gases are a big part in causing climate change, [though] there are other natural cycles that can have feedback,” he explained.
He used the example of sea ice melting in the Arctic regions to explain “feedback:” when the sea ice melts and is no longer present to reflect the sun’s energy back into space, there is an increased warming in that region, which is why the Arctic is warming much faster than other regions.
“Even if we stopped emitting all greenhouse gases today, they’re up there and they’re going to have an effect over the coming decades, if not centuries,” Smyntek said.
Despite this, he said there are steps people can take to lessen climate change’s effects.
“We can do a lot in two areas. One is adapting to prepare for climate change and to make us more resilient,” he said, “The other is mitigating the impact.”
“I think it is important to stress that optimism,” Smyntek said. “You don’t want people feeling hopeless. You want them to be concerned because it is a concern, but it is not a hopeless situation."
Angela Belli, Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve director and professor of environmental science, stated likewise.
“I think each one of us can easily change simple actions and collaboratively make positive change today and for future generations,” she said, “Overconsumption and the inappropriate use of our natural resources is a reality.”
Through her teaching about the science of sustainable living, Belli said she has drawn the conclusion that humans should mimic nature’s biochemical cycles in the products and tools they create in order to minimize waste and mitigate the effects of human actions on the climate.
“Waste in many forms is problematic for the health of people, wildlife, and the planet overall,” she said.