A GIF of the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” saying “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!” played behind Economics Professor Michael Rizzo as students gathered in Wegmans Hall on Oct. 30 to hear him argue against the notion that the Earth is undergoing a climate catastrophe.
“I’m curious to see how many people will misunderstand the point of my talk, which is about addressing the issue of catastrophe and not at all the issue of whether climate change is happening, or even the mechanics of it,” he said in an interview with the Campus Times.
The talk included Rizzo stating his biggest fear — that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know about climate change. The talk, he said, was assembled from everything he’s read, and, to him, things don’t look so bad, but he knows he hasn’t read everything.
“I maybe don’t know what to do about it,” Rizzo said, referring to climate change, in an interview with the Campus Times. “That’s part of it. Whether my presentation was what I believe or what I tell you I’m reading, those are two different things.”
Rizzo’s assembled resources were constrained to a 12-point presentation for concision’s sake — though he still ended up with 155 slides — which argued for why society should be less concerned about climate change.
His arguments, which utilized graphs and expert sources, were wide-ranging — touching on population and income growth, migration, green energy, extreme weather resilience, to more outlandish ideas he lumped onto one slide and called “batshit crazy.”
The hour-long talk was a noticeable time crunch for Rizzo, who mentioned at least 10 times throughout the lecture that he didn’t have enough time for his slides, for the details, or for the audience to read even the axes of the graphs he quickly flipped through — if those graphs had axes at all to begin with.
First-year Aidan Lieberman, who attended the talk after hearing about it in Rizzo’s Principles of Economics class, thought the professor tried to fit too much into his time, but he agreed with the points that he could follow, saying “they seemed to make sense.”
“I was only able to follow a few of the points he was making,” Lieberman said. “My biggest takeaway is that humans will be able to manage the effects of climate change as they become more severe.”
Rizzo said he wanted students to leave the talk understanding that the rhetoric around climate “catastrophe” often comes more from how information is reported rather than the science itself.
Addressing issues of climate change, he said, requires a nuanced understanding that takes lots of research to achieve — research that he found students weren’t doing before coming to him with disagreements.
Rizzo felt like his message was lost, though he said that he thought everyone in the room heard something they hadn’t before. Even just sparking conversation is healthy, he said. However, that requires people to be in the room in the first place.
Rizzo mentioned to the Campus Times that he noticed a lack of faculty or climate experts at his talk and was disappointed. The CT reached out to several Environmental Science professors, who declined to comment on either the content of the talk or Rizzo himself.
In retrospect, Rizzo didn’t believe that his event went all that well. One student walked out after about 15 minutes — she was fed up with the talk, according to her friend, first-year Matthew Repetsky. The CT got in touch with her, but she declined to comment, choosing instead to email Rizzo and start a conversation at her friend’s suggestion.
He was glad she got in touch rather than just dismissing him.
“The other thing that did go well is, to the extent that kids did comment back to me, they seem to have been respectful,” Rizzo said. “No one’s called me a dick yet. People who disagree have been like, ‘Wow, I still think it’s bad. That was interesting. Here’s why I disagree.’ Which I think is healthy.”