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July 25, 2013
“I am a product of my history.” Eileen D. Grogan ’84, an assistant professor of biology at St. Joseph’s University, repeated this phrase when she returned to her alma mater on April 8 to give a lecture entitled “Climate Change: The Long and Short of It.” In doing so, Grogan acknowledged the impact Washington College has had on her career, while also alluding to the evolution of the natural world.

From her first days on campus talking to biology and environmental studies professor Donald Munson about Irish step dancing, Grogan enjoyed her time at Washington College, where she focused her studies on anatomy, immunology and cancer biology. After graduating, she earned a master’s degree in biology from Adelphi University and then a doctorate in marine science from the College of William and Mary.

Grogan’s work at Bear Gulch, a Montana site internationally known for the quality of the preservation of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils dating back 318 million years, led her to a fuller understanding of the impact of climate change throughout earth’s history. “It has led to both extinctions and geneses,” Grogan explained. 

She advocates looking at the long-range trends of warming and cooling that have been the norm on earth since its beginnings to provide context for the global temperature, sea level and carbon dioxide gas levels, to determine if the high readings we are getting today are the result of natural cycles or of man’s activities impacting those cycles. “Man’s activities are affecting the carbon balance,” she concluded.

Her liberal arts roots can be seen most clearly in her argument that knowledge of natural history, science and language is necessary to begin to address climate change. She advocates scientific literacy for the public endeavoring to understand the issue, and strong communication skills for those journalists and academics who relay information. Talk of “stopping climate change” is misleading because climate change has been happening for thousands of years; rather, they should use precise wording about “lessening man’s effect on the climate balance,” which is something we can do. Any proposed plan to accomplish this, Grogan said, must be examined carefully for unintended consequences, such as the negative impact that the use of ethanol has had on corn production, U.S. exports and world hunger. 

“The biological, geologic and physical aspects of climate change are all interconnected,” she said. “We need critical thinkers to respond.”

— Emily Blackner ’13

 


Last modified on Jul. 29th at 1:24pm by Kristen Hammond.