People who suffer most are least responsible for climate change

When Ken Davis, Penn State professor of meteorology, used to think about climate change he looked at it as a scientific problem, with an economic dimension.

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Published on August 12, 2013 at 9:47 AM

Now, though, he sees the issue as an ethical challenge too.

“The people who are mostly causing the change are those who perhaps will suffer the least,” he said. “And the people who will suffer the most are the least responsible for the change. If that’s not an ethical conundrum, I don’t know what is.”

Davis is one of eight scientists featured in “Sensing Change,” a project by the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Center for Contemporary History and Policy that brings art and science together in exhibits and oral histories focused on seeing changes in surrounding environments.

Hilary Domush, oral history program associate with the foundation’s Center for Contemporary History and Policy, said CHF started “Sensing Change” as an art exhibit, but it grew to include the scientific perspective as well.

“In an attempt to be thought provoking — scientific, but not political — we wanted people to think about their experiences with the climate,” she said.

Davis, the first scientist interviewed for the project, was one of the experts chosen for his background working on air quality. His current research projects include studying how to measure urban areas’ greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of methane emitted during natural gas drilling.

Fossil fuel burning, he notes, is the primary factor behind climate change.

“The nations that are burning most of the fossil fuels tend to be the wealthy nations that are relatively adaptable,” he said during the interview featured on the Sensing Change website. “The nations and parts of the world that are not emitting much at all of the … climate-changing greenhouse gases are nations, which in many cases, are the nations most vulnerable. They don’t have the resources to adapt.”

Along with segments of the interviews with scientists, “Sensing Change” has an art exhibit that opened July 1 at the foundations’ gallery in Philadelphia and will be open for 10 months.

In one exhibit, “Village Green,” visitors put their heads inside terrariums to see the plants up close. In another, “HighWaterLine” to be done in spring 2014, chalk marks where in the city flooding could come from a rising sea level.

To find out more about the exhibits and to listen to the oral histories, go to