Last week we had the stunning news that one of our faculty members, Gary Yohe, was recognized as part of the team awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on global warming. Gary is a senior member and coordinating lead author on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the prize with Al Gore. We are very proud of this Wesleyan economist’s scholarship, which lies at the intersection of liberal learning and public life, of public policy and quantitative analysis.
Gary has taught at Wesleyan since 1977, and is now the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics. His recent work on climate change has focused on modes of measuring relative vulnerability to global warming. He has been able to show the dramatically unequal effects of changes to climate, allowing for a more empirically based discussion of the social justice issues that we face in regard to the costs of adjusting to a warmer planet.
Gary and his colleagues have developed a concept of “adaptive capacity” as a vehicle for understanding how various species cope with changes to the environment. Some species of dragonflies now can be found more than 90 kilometers north of their traditional habitats. Birds are laying eggs earlier; hibernation schedules have found a different rhythm. Some species will adapt; the most vulnerable will disappear.
I’ve been thinking about this notion of “adaptive capacity” as I consider how we at Wesleyan can commit to having a less harmful impact on our environment. Do those with more resources, with a capacity to change, have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable? Wouldn’t this extend beyond the environment to other issues of social justice?
How adaptive are we? At Wesleyan we cultivate the courage to change, the ability to adapt by creatively responding to our culture, our environment. And we want to cultivate a productive self-consciousness of how change affects the most vulnerable. Courage should entail responsibility.
Wesleyan has been learning from Professor Gary Yohe for decades. We are delighted that the world has recognized the importance of his teaching. Congratulations, Gary!