Q&A: Our Only Home

Furman professors Geoffrey Habron, Matthew Cohen and M. Taha Kasim on the challenge of our time.

From deadly heat waves to rising sea levels, to fire seasons that start earlier and food supplies at risk, the effects of human-induced climate change are innumerable. But in the absence of global, systemic change to reverse our dangerous course on carbon emissions, solutions and responses may seem remote to an individual. Three Furman professors offer insights about the changing world around us – from the perspective of our discourse, our cities and even our front porches.

Cynthia King

Geoffrey Habron, professor of sustainability sciences

What are some approaches communities can take to increase their resilience to climate change?

“Resilience means the ability to bounce back from a disturbance and return to a normal state or move into a new, better stable state. With climate, we want to anticipate the possible changes because we cannot go back to prior conditions – We must build resilience for upcoming and shifting possibilities.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed an online Climate Resilience Toolkit that identifies five steps for communities to follow: Explore hazards, assess vulnerability and risks, investigate options, prioritize and plan, and take action.

Providing tree canopy coverage addresses multiple hazards, such as providing shade to reduce urban heat, buffering land from intensive rain to reduce flooding and landslides, and reducing evaporation to mitigate droughts. Urban heat disproportionately impacts vulnerable low-income minority communities with the least capacity to withstand such conditions. Communities need to foster social capital and adaptive capacity by ensuring shared diverse knowledges of the problems and solution options among wide groups of people. We need community trust to prepare for the range of climate changes and solutions.”

Aaron Simmons

Matt Cohen, associate professor of sustainability sciences

What can we do to more effectively communicate the urgency of addressing climate change?

“Communicating the climate crisis can be tricky. We want to strike a balance between conveying the urgency and enormity of the crisis without scaring people into apathy. Some social science research points towards messaging that is solutions oriented, engaging the public in dialogue regarding how we can and will stop climate change. This line of research shows that people respond more positively to these messages, while ‘doom and gloom’ messages cause people to feel hopeless and lose agency. At the same time, it is possible to paint too rosy of a picture, and people don’t take seriously how bad things really are if we don’t act yesterday.

The final challenge is determining the appropriate audience and which call to action is most effective. For instance, so much messaging focuses on personal actions individuals can take while ignoring the real problem: Our global economic system demands endless consumption of land and fossil fuels. So, in summary, we want to share messages about climate action that show effective solutions that address system-level issues and build agency in the public to support radical change.”

Savita Nair

Taha Kasim, the Robert E. Hughes Assistant Professor of Economics

We know trees create habitat, combat pollution, halt erosion and help to cool our communities. Is there an economic value to trees?

“In Greenville County and elsewhere, yes, there is a correlation. But we also know, generally, that housing prices are higher in neighborhoods with relatively better environmental quality. In a research project, James Miller ’21 and I disentangled the value households attach to urban tree cover by observing housing prices. Consider two houses that have the same housing and neighborhood characteristics (that is, house size, age, number of rooms, school quality, etc.) but differ only in proximity to tree cover. The difference in prices between these two houses will provide evidence on the value people attach to tree cover. Similar studies have been done for other cities (for example, Athens, Georgia; Davis, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Washington, D.C.; and Salo, Finland).

We collected data on home sales in Greenville County for 2009-2015, and based on addresses determined tree cover around the house. Using simultaneous autoregressive (SAR) hedonic models, preliminary results suggest that a 5% increase in tree cover within a 100-meter radius, increases average housing prices by $2,075 (1%). This effect, however, diminishes as distance to tree cover increases. These results are consistent with point estimates found in previous literature.”

$5 million gift from Chris ’78 and Andrea Borch will endow track and cross-country scholarships.

Jim Pitts ’60 helped guide the university during integration, the Vietnam War and the break from the Southern Baptist Convention.

The music major went from a church choir in Charleston to Furman to a recording studio in L.A.