Trillions of corn kernels scorched last summer across the most fertile agricultural land in the world.
The drop in Great Lakes water levels was measured by the foot.
Last fall’s devastating East Coast Superstorm Sandy, which obliterated coastal communities and washed away New England farms.
There was no need to debate climate change Friday with renowned author and environmentalist Bill McKibben – who attended a luncheon at the University at Buffalo’s South Campus with dozens of other local planners, scholars and environmental activists – just prioritizing ideas for changing the current trajectory in a way that’s “fast enough to matter.”
“Mother Nature is providing a number of educational modules,” McKibben said about the recent climatic events that have wreaked havoc in the United States and the world.
McKibben, the founder of “350.org,” a global grass-roots climate campaign, was here to deliver the commencement address for the university’s School of Architecture and Planning.
Besides the address and participating in the luncheon panel discussion, McKibben’s day was also dedicated to analyzing and advising the university’s leaders in the “One Region Forward” collaborative project aimed at promoting “more sustainable forms of development in Erie and Niagara counties.”
“We couldn’t grow food last year in the most fertile farmland on the planet,” McKibben said.
“We’re already edging into the realm when it’s getting incredibly hard” to overcome the momentum of climate change, he added.
Beating it back by way of policy changes promoting more green energy and less reliance on fossil fuels, taking on corporate and political interests that gain financially from the status quo and generating widespread public involvement are actions that must be taken immediately, he said.
“The fight has got to be engaged,” McKibben said. “I tend to think the only thing that could currently derail this is if we were unable to get ahead of climate change fast enough.”
“This is getting close, really close ... The ‘100-year rainstorms’ are coming every six months. We’re up against it in a really serious way.”
McKibben’s comments followed a compilation of historical statistics of the region from Robert G. Shibley, the dean of the university’s Architecture and Planning School, and research presentations from university professors Himanshu Grover and Samina Raja, respectively, on climate change and food systems security. Those two areas, researchers said, are those least represented in the more than 160 plans that involve future planning for the region.
Among the most prescient facts Shibley outlined in asking “what will Buffalo look like in 50 years?” were these:
• Developed land in Erie and Niagara counties increased by 78 percent over the last four decades while population dropped 16 percent.
• Despite that population drop, there are 5,500 more households here than in 1970, and the number of vacant dwellings here tripled in that time from 15,214 to 45,475.
“Understanding trends,” Shibley said, will provide information for “how we answer fundamental questions” about planning the region’s future.
“The decisions we make today will have impacts on our future tomorrow,” he added.