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Harrisonburg industries, including food processing, contribute to climate change.

It’s difficult to deny that the climate is changing around the world — and causing significant damage. Despite worldwide efforts to combat it, wildfires still rage through forests and towns, glaciers continue to melt and sea levels continue to rise. With its recent inconsistent weather, Harrisonburg is feeling the effects of global warming as well.

Climate change has existed all throughout history, largely due to slight changes in the Earth’s orbit causing variations in solar energy reaching the planet, according to NASA. There have been seven climate cycles in the past 650,000 years — these cycles are measured through glacial advances and retreats, with the last ice age ending approximately 11,700 years ago

However, the major contributor to climate change nowadays isn’t the placement of Earth’s orbit — it’s the human race. The evidence of global warming is overwhelming and continues to prove that human activity and development is the main cause of the current changes in the climate. If it weren’t for humans, the Earth would currently be naturally cooling, according to NASA. Increasing human activity has caused global temperatures to rise, oceans to warm and acidify, glaciers and ice sheets to melt and extreme weather events to increase. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), humans are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere over the last 150 years. In the U.S., the largest source of these emissions comes from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation. Agriculture is a significant contributor to the emission of greenhouse gasses as well, which come from livestock, agricultural soils and rice production, among other sources.

Harrisonburg’s major industries include manufacturing, food processing, technology, transportation, distribution and logistics. Manufacturing, specifically, is considered central to Harrisonburg and is a primary industry in the region, including food and beverage, industrial and miscellaneous and manufacturing companies. Manufacturing is also considered to be a major contributor to climate change due to the significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by manufacturers

Food processing, another staple industry in Harrisonburg, is a tremendous contributor to climate change. Food systems — which include food processing, transportation, waste, etc. — emit over a third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions according to Forbes. 

In recent decades, temperatures in Virginia have been gradually rising. During the 1930s Virginia experienced extremely hot temperatures, but recent average summer temperatures now exceed those of the 30s, according to the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies. “Temperatures in Virginia have risen more than 1.5F since the beginning of the 20th century. Under a higher emissions pathway, historically unprecedented warming is projected during this century,” the article reads.

JMU biology professor Bruce Wiggins explains that there have “definitely” been changes in average temperatures. 

“All of our human activities that are involved in using the energy that’s not a renewable source is a source of CO2 to the atmosphere,” Wiggins said. 

These CO2 emissions are greenhouse gasses that get trapped in the atmosphere and contribute to the increasingly warm climate.

In 2020, a Yale program on climate change communication conducted a survey among Harrisonburg residents. Over 68% believe climate change is happening, and over 50% believe it’s caused by human activity. 

JM has taken a strong stance on climate change, in fact JMU established the Environmental Stewardship Action Plan and signed the Talloires Declaration, along with hundreds of universities and countries around the world. 

The Talloires Declaration was signed in 1990 at a conference in France and it lays out a 10 step plan for “incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy in teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities.”

Currently, JMU incorporates green energy into their electric grid through the use of solar panels. These panels, the ISAT Solar Energy Array, produce 11.25 kW of energy according to JMU's website. They can be found on the Hillside of East Campus. 

“The impact of human activity on the pace of climate change is well supported scientifically and thus, ought to drive coordinated efforts by communities, industries and nations to mitigate impact and slow the rate of change.”

It is impossible to ignore the evidence presented for global warming — our planet is undoubtedly undergoing a significant change in climate due to human activity and development. Countries and cities around the world are feeling the effects of global warming, and Harrisonburg is no exception.

Contact junior writing, rhetoric and technical communication major Emma Seli at seliek@dukes.jmu.edu. For more editorials regarding the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the opinion desk on Instagram and Twitter @breeze_opinion.