INTERview: Jerome Ringo
By Joshua Brown Article published March 27, 2007
Perhaps it’s the stacks of new scientific reports; perhaps it’s the drowning polar bears; perhaps it’s Al Gore — for whatever reason, global warming has leapt outside the environmental movement and hit the front pages. And if the atmospheric models are right, this attention couldn’t be coming too soon. There’s not much more than a 10-year window to dramatically reduce our output of greenhouse gases or face a “point of no return,” NASA climate scientist James Hansen recently claimed.
Taking up this urgent theme, UVM's Spring Aiken Lectures, “Global Climate Change — No Time to Waste,” will bring two internationally renowned problem-solvers to campus, Jerome Ringo and Lawrence Susskind.
The lead speaker, Jerome Ringo, is president of the Apollo Alliance, which promotes alternative energy and job creation. In 2005, he was selected as chairman of the National Wildlife Federation, the first African American to lead a major conservation organization. the view spoke with Ringo from New Haven, Conn., where he is a visiting fellow at Yale University.
THE VIEW: Around the world, global warming is now drawing attention in a way it wasn’t a few years ago. Why do think this is?
JEROME RINGO: The rising temperature of the Earth is increasingly obvious to people all over the world. On the Serengeti in Africa, people see that the animals that provide their food have stopped migrating like they normally would. Those who fly over Greenland — as I have done recently — see the meltdown. The permafrost in Alaska is melting. Those of us who live along the Gulf Coast — I am an evacuee of Hurricane Rita — see that "the intensities of hurricanes is an impact of the warming of our oceans."
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe and other doubters express skepticism about climate change. Do you have a response to that perspective?
We in Louisiana are suffering from category five hurricanes, and people like Inhofe are suffering from category five denial. They need to wake up. The science is overwhelming. This is the real deal.
In your role with the Apollo Alliance, what kinds of specific policies are you seeking to slow or stop this global climate change problem?
The Apollo Alliance promotes investment into the research and development of alternative energy. If people around the world would focus more on hybrid cars, solar energy, wind energy, and conservation, as well as biofuels, we could reduce our dependency on those fossil fuels that contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But we’re also advocating a real economic advantage for this country by reducing our dependency on foreign oil and promoting research and development of alternatives that stimulate the American economy and create good jobs.
It’s a common observation that African American communities have been on the losing end of many environmental problems — and yet environmental activism has not been strongly developed in those same communities. As an African American conservation leader, what are you hoping to accomplish?
As an African American, I’ve always been concerned about the serious lack of involvement of the African American community in the organized conservation movement. I believe that the global warming issue can be the glue that connects the dots. It can bring people from all walks of life to the table. It is clear that poor people and people of color are going to suffer a disproportionate impact from global warming.
The 10 hottest years in recorded history have occurred since 1991, and 2005 broke the record as the hottest year. Who have less access to air conditioning? The poor. Who have less access to healthcare to deal with the diseases that are going to occur as a result of these climate swings? The poor. There is a message that I am taking to the poor and of-color community: We have a real stake in global warming.
You spent 20 years working with the petrochemical industry. How does that inform your work now as the chairman of the National Wildlife Federation and other projects you’re involved in?
Because I was on both sides of the fence, I have a unique perspective and an opportunity to realize that there is a lot more that can be done by the industry to reduce the impact on communities — and there is a lot more that can be done in the community to reduce that impact.
The Spring Aiken Lecture Series will be held at the Music Building Recital Hall, Thursday, April 5, at 4 p.m. Information: Aiken Lectures