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Visiting professor speaks on climate change at MSU

February 4, 2010

By the year 2100, the globe is at risk to lose 40 percent of the animal population to extinction, according to Terry Root.

Although many people dispute the idea of global climate change, the problem couldn’t be more serious, said Root, a Stanford University professor visiting MSU this week.

Root gave her lecture Thursday afternoon in the Union titled “Climate Change and Michigan Species: Adapting or Going Extinct,” which illustrated what could happen to many species on Earth if current trends continue, Root said.

“There are people out there that you’re not going to convince,” she said. “It’s not a belief, it’s a fact. We know that the climate is warming.”

Root’s lecture was part of the Environmental Science and Policy Programs lecture series on climate change, which examines how the changes in global temperature affect health, business and the environment, said Maya Fischhoff, assistant director of the program.

“This issue intersects with lots of different topics and things that people care about,” Fischhoff said.

“The purpose is to bring together people at MSU who are working on climate change, but also people outside the university who are engaged in the issue — to bridge the world of people in Michigan working on climate change.”

The series brings in lecturers from across the country to speak at MSU and try to introduce new ideas to faculty and students, Fischhoff said.

“Sometimes having somebody from the outside can make you look at things differently,” she said. “We wanted to mix things up a bit and get some different ideas circulating through.”

At almost all of her presentations, Root said she speaks with people who don’t understand the significance of extinction.

Many people think the only animals humans need to rely on are cows and chickens for food, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, she said.

“There are species that they don’t see that are supporting other species,” Root said. “What I do is talk about how strongly everything is all put together. It’s a very strong web. If you break one part of it a lot can fall apart.”

The most shocking part of Root’s lecture wasn’t that animals were facing extinction, it was how quickly extinction was becoming a problem, said public policy graduate student James Carson.

“It’s pretty startling,” Carson said. “She made it appear a little more dire than I thought it would be — as far as rises in global temperature over the years, the amount of extinct species and how radically they’ll have to adapt to different habitats.”

Although the problem seems incurable and the solution is not completely clear, Root said people will fight to keep animals from going extinct.

“There is hope,” she said.

“We can do things. We are going to save species. We are going to have to move a lot, but we are going to save a lot. It’s not hopeless.”

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