HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) – There is no arguing that climate change is one of the most important issues facing the world today. To meet this challenge requires nations and institutions to work together, but it’s also critical for the general population to understand climate change, according to Krassi Lazarova, Ph.D., associate professor of physics and Science Department chair at Centenary University.
The ultimate goal, according to this authority in the field: “To keep our environment healthy and in balance, so we can enjoy it. Let’s be responsible in using our resources.”
The United States recently rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, which is a step in the right direction, according to Dr. Lazarova. “We know the science. We know what is causing the problem. We know what we need to do to reduce specific greenhouse gases. If we all do it together, we will be successful. This is what the Paris Agreement is trying to accomplish.”
Many people think of climate change in terms of the weather they experience on a day-to-day basis. But Dr. Lazarova said that a more nuanced way of approaching the problem avoids this common misunderstanding: “Yes, the global temperature will be warmer, so it will manifest in more extremes.” These extremes can range from droughts to more frequent, severe storms. And it is these extremes that represent the threat to all life forms on Earth.
Dr. Lazarova explained that the earth has experienced five mass extinctions, each one the result of a relatively short period of climate instability—in other words, the changes in climate that led to a dying off were not thousands of years long, but centuries or even decades in duration. “They happened over too short a period of time for species to adapt,” she said.
The burning of coal and oil for energy over only the most recent few hundred years has led to the release of greenhouse gases that is causing a rapid warming across the globe. As this is the result of human actions, our current geological age is known as the Anthropocene: the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. In short, human activities caused this climate change.
“I’m a scientist. From my point of view, it is important for us to maintain our environment, and balance our livelihoods with the maintenance of that environment,” Dr. Lazarova said, emphasizing that keeping the environment in equilibrium is key to our shared future. “If we keep our environment in balance for all life forms to live, without changing it in a way that could cause additional hardships for life in general and even mass extinction, then this is a good effort.”
Some ask whether it’s even too late to stop climate change. Dr. Lazarova points to recent events where an understanding of science led to a concrete solution to the problem. “In the 1980s, ozone depletion around the North and South poles was discovered. Scientists put their heads together and figured out how it happened: the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), mainly in refrigeration. As a result, the worldwide community made a decision to ban CFCs.” Because this was done globally, ozone levels stabilized by the mid-1990s and began to recover in the 2000s. Recovery is projected to continue over the next century. “That was a real success story,” Dr. Lazarova added.
Dr. Lazarova has taken her expertise in the area of climate science out of the academic setting. She gives lectures to community groups about sustainability. Learning about the scientific process helps distinguish long-term trends—climate—from the details, such as weather. She also works to combat mistrust in science: “Climate change science is solid and clear. What’s important is how we are communicating it to the general public.”
Dr. Lazarova said that she receives invitations to speak at outside organizations such as public libraries because she can explain the science in simple English. “People get a lot out of it. My presentation is about an hour, but last time we spent over two hours with questions.” For Dr. Lazarova, questions mean that her audience understands and wants to learn more.
At Centenary University, undergraduate research projects are helping provide data that will be used to continue to measure climate change while teaching students the scientific method. Dr. Lazarova said data collected about the weather and water in Warren County are small but important contributions to the overall forecasting of climate change. “In every model, your predictions are as good as the data you put in,” she said. “However, data is often skewed toward large metropolitan areas, with very little input from areas such as northwestern New Jersey, where Centenary is located. The ongoing faculty and student research at Centenary helps fill that data gap.”
On a larger scale, Dr. Lazarova said she expects the Paris agreement will have an impact on business and industry leaders, as they realize it is in their best interest to work toward reducing climate change. For Dr. Lazarova, the bottom line is sustainability: “If we all pull the cart in the same direction, we will be successful.”