Earth Day and Global Warming in Today s Climate of Political Environmentalism

UC’s Adrian Parr is hot about global warming.

At 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, 2010, on the MainStreet steps (between TUC and Steger Student Life Center), Adrian Parr, associate professor, Women’s, Sexuality, and Gender Studies and the School of Architecture and Interior Design, talks about the current environmental movement and how Earth Day is positioned in this era of highly political environmentalism. Call it “Climate 101: Neoliberalism & Climate Change Politics.”

It’s just one part of how the University of Cincinnati is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Intelligent people still debate over whether global warming or climate change is real. Critics point out that the earth has always experienced a pattern of cooling and warming cycles. Most scientists agree, however, that there has been a distinct increase in global warming over the last century. There is even confusion over what to call it. Here’s some clarification, thanks to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Within scientific circles, the term “global warming” refers specifically to temperature increases on the surface of the Earth. “Climate change” includes global warming as well as other effects that increasing greenhouse gas amounts can cause. Parr addresses some of these effects in her Earth Day remarks on April 22.

“If we don’t act to decrease greenhouse gas emissions,

sea levels will rise

, coastlines will be eliminated, drought will increase, food shortages will arise and extreme weather patterns will emerge,” she lists. “Katrina was just a taste of that.”

Greenhouse gases (methane, ethane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide) combine with water and then trap heat inside the earth’s atmosphere, thus raising the temperature. These gases are produced through both natural and man-made (anthopogenic) means. While cows have been blamed for as much as 18 percent of greenhouse gases emissions, the gases are produced in great quantities through burning fossil fuels and other industrial activities.

“It is important that we all recognize that global warming has an anthropogenic source. For instance, since the beginning of the industrial revolution CO2 levels have increased by approximately 36 percent,” says Parr. “Since 1900, the Earth's surface temperature has warmed approximately 1.5 degrees.”

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just announced in April 2010 that the world’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature made March 2010 the warmest March on record. Since NOAA records first started being kept in 1880, evaluated separately, the average ocean temperatures were the warmest for any March and the global land surface was the fourth-warmest for any March. Altogether this has been the Earth’s fourth-warmest January – March period on record.

“You have to bear in mind that there have been many well-meaning attempts to raise awareness about global warming/climate change, and to a great extent these have been effective,” Parr says. “Just take a look at the growing market in green commodities. However, in order for us to produce widespread, lasting change the global community needs to be able to produce a binding agreement to radically lower greenhouse gases.”

"Discussions, such as the recent climate talks in Copenhagen, seem to always end up dissolving into political and economic battles that are waged over ‘who’s gonna miss out on what’ and who should bear the costs associated with mitigating and adapting to climate change, instead of the larger collective problem concerning changing how we live,” she adds.

Parr stresses that we can’t afford to be short-sighted and parochial in our response to climate change.  “Future generations that we haven’t even met yet are going to be crippled by the inaction of mainly high-income countries.”

“We have a responsibility to future generations,” she says. “This includes a responsibility to allow other species to continue to thrive and flourish. In addition, we have a responsibility to some of the world's poorest communities who are already bearing the brunt of the climate change burden and who will certainly bear the greatest burdens in the future as the effects of rises in average temperatures are felt.”

Parr’s homeland, Australia, is beginning to see unheard-of community conflict arising over the Darling-Murray river basin, one of the country’s most important water sources.

“The drought in Australia has really begun to intensify debates over water access in the country,” she says. “And the more politicized the issue of water management becomes, the more blinkered the strategies seem to be. The hardcore reality of Australia's water shortages is not necessarily going to be solved by issuing and selling water entitlements or by constructing large desalination plants. Whilst this may help what is really needed is more rain and that is not predicted to improve as the average climate warms. Actually rainfall is predicted to fall anywhere up to 40% for Australia.”

Parr says that all countries need to take what she calls “a serious stab” at slowing the mean global temperature to less than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature.


“It’s a hard problem, and I don’t think that we can stop it, but I do think that we can slow it through creative and realistic strategizing: green technologies, geo-engineering, better management of resources, sustainable development and building, lowering our ecologic footprint, and most importantly by revitalizing the importance of the public commons,” she suggests. “None of this will happen if we are not motivated to change and take risks.”

Parr recounts an item she heard on that morning’s NPR broadcast. Natalie Merchant was describing her new release, “Leave Your Sleep,” which is based on the work of poets of different nationalities and time periods.

One piece on the CD, "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" incorporates a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who lived in Victorian England.

“It’s a children’s poem, from the Victorian era, that explains death to a young child,” Parr explains. The parallel to global warming struck her.

“Suffering and sadness are shared across people — it’s always the same — it’s a collective thing we have in common,” she says. “And just as the climate is a public commons, so too are changes to the climate. The suffering that people and other-than -human animals encounter may be experienced individually, but in so far as it is an experience we are all open to, it is collective. Global warming is a thing we all share in common.”

Parr then looks beyond the suffering to what can motivate people to act.

“That involves participating in what makes life joyful. Celebrating the mystery of life, the simple moments that make people happy, the creative ways that people make do with their lot, acts of generosity, and so on,” she says. “We can't force people to do what they don't want to do — that is simply an act of violence. But we can get people excited about how they live their lives and for me this is the most effective launch pad for producing sustainable change in response to climate change."   

“We can have fun with this, you know,” she adds with a smile.

Here are some tips that Parr recommends to reduce your own personal carbon footprint:

  • Plant a tree.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Turn a light off.
  • Close the blinds on the sunny side of the house on a hot day.
  • If you’re warm, dress in lighter clothes or turn a fan on. Don’t reach for the air conditioning first.
  • Turn off the computer.
  • Unplug the phone charger.

Adrian Parr is author of "Hijacking Sustainability" (MIT Press, 2009) and "Deleuze and Memorial Culture" (Edinburgh UP, 2008)


Good to Know

National Park Service: more information on the effects of climate change

U.S. EPA: What You Can Do

This site provides over 25 easy steps you can take to not only reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, but also reduce air pollution, increase the nation's energy independence and save money. Get a link to the EPA's Household Emissions Calculator.

U.S. EPA: Create a New Climate for Action: Do Your Part for Climate Change and Children’s Health

NASA: What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change

State of the Climate Global Analysis, March 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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If you go:


Adrian Parr, associate professor, Women’s, Sexuality, and Gender Studies and the School of Architecture and Interior Design


“Climate 101: Neoliberalism & Climate Change Politics”


2 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, 2010


MainStreet steps between TUC and Steger Student Life Center

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