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Conference at Ohio State addresses challenges from changing climate

Health impacts, sustainable energy sources top concerns for future

Experts discuss the impact of climate change on infrastructure

A warming climate, increased risks to food and water supplies and growing challenges with utilities and infrastructure – those are some of the concerns discussed Friday at a conference on “Building Resilient Communities in a Changing Climate” at The Ohio State University.

The conference was hosted by Ohio State and the  Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. Speakers included faculty from the university, local community leaders and experts in energy and the environment.

Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron opened the discussion with a call to continue building partnerships to solve problems like the ones posed by a changing climate. McPheron, whose background is in entomology, said the natural world offers a model for success.

“The most stable systems are the systems with the most connections. That really is a fundamental component for resilience and durability,” he said.

McPheron pointed to Ohio State’s role in the  University Climate Change Coalition, an alliance of 13 research universities working together to help local communities improve their climate and pursue the university’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. He said the conference was part of a continuingcommitment to focus on sustainability.

The experts gathered at the conference said that commitment will be needed.

Kerstin Carr, director of planning and environment at MORPC, said the central Ohio region is poised for a population boom. The increase in population will put pressure on infrastructure and the environment.

“We could be on track to be a region of 3 million people by 2050,” Carr said.

Topics covered by the conference included a discussion on the health impacts of a changing climate and how the energy sources of the future will be discovered and delivered.

Ohio State Energy Partners CEO Serdar Tufekci, the leader of the university’s partnership with Engie and Axium to manage Ohio State’s energy assets and operations, said the future of energy needs to focus on three things: decarbonization, digitalization and decentralization. He said that means systems that are cleaner, use smart technology to be more efficient and are closer to the communities they serve.

While the some of the sessions focused on the challenges ahead, panelists also discussed the work happening right now to improve the central Ohio environment. Alana Shockey, assistant director of sustainability for Columbus, pointed to Blueprint Columbus as one program underway. The program focuses on reducing sanitary sewer overflows through improving drainage at area homes and building rain gardens.

“All of this is to solve stormwater sewer issues but also adds a neighborhood amenity that will provide public health benefits and will keep tax dollars in the community by providing jobs. It will be doing a lot of great things,” Shockey said.

Bryan Mark, state climatologist of Ohio and an Ohio State professor of geography, moderated the conference and said it gave him a better appreciation of his role as an educator.

“I started to see now, the goal to educate about our role of environmental stewardship,” Mark said. “So we’re connecting people that live in the region with information that we know is important at a global level and scientific level, and communicating that interactively.”