The impact of climate change has been catching up to us more quickly lately. While scientists and environmental activists have been sounding the alarm for decades, until fairly recently the time frames common in the media, if not quite comfortablydistant, at least projected the really bad stuff into the next century. If you weren’t paying too much attention, it could seem that there was still plenty of time to get serious.
With the release of the 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the tipping point to stave off catastrophic impacts zoomed in from 100 years to more like 10 or 20. If carbon emissions still continue to increase, so has public awareness and acceptance of the need to act.
The urgency of climate change is being felt here on campus, too. In last issue’s “Gazetteer,” for example, we reported on a series of climate-centered campus lectures. This time around, we have a story on Penn’s latest climate action and sustainability plan, reporting on the University’s progress in emissions reductions, environmentally friendly building and renovation standards, and waste minimization, as well as promoting research on the science of climate change at places like the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and other groups.
Senior editor Trey Popp surveys some of the efforts going on across the University in “The New Climate Change Advocates,” with an emphasis on smallish-scale, practical actions that could have an impact. These include the valuable service that cities—which often have relationships that transcend national boundaries—can perform when it comes to spreading environmental best practices, proposals for using various regulatory and legal mechanisms to encourage emissions reductions and respond effectively to rising sea levels, what proponents of today’s Green New Deal should emulate—and avoid—about the original New Deal, and one faculty member’s struggle to square participation in academic conferences with the carbon cost of air travel.
Also included in the cover-story package is a profile by Molly Petrilla C’06 of Diane Burko GFA’69, an artist who over the last decade or more has provided a vivid picture of climate change’s impact. Her work appears on the cover and throughout the article.
Coincidentally, Molly also wrote our other main feature, “Augmenting Reality,” which describes the activities of several Penn faculty, staff, and alumni working in various aspects of augmented reality (AR), their thoughts about the technology’s future impact, and the obstacles that need to be overcome for it to be widely embraced by the general public.
Though both AR and virtual reality (VR) are sometimes referred to as “immersive technologies,” the article notes that, unlike VR, AR is “not about fully losing yourself in an imaginary world” but rather “enhancing your actual surroundings with computer-generated images and objects.” Readers may remember—or remember watching their children—chasing after the characters in Pokémon GO a couple of years ago, for example. Besides gaming, uses currently being explored at Penn include AR-assisted surgeries, medical and nursing training, and other educational and scholarly projects in a variety of fields.
As a concept, AR has actually been around for a while—the term “augmented reality” was coined two decades ago. Molly’s sources offer mixed responses on how close the technology is even now to a tipping point. Apparently, that may depend on how soon people can be persuaded to ditch their phones and embrace tech-enabled glasses instead.
Also in this issue, Gazette work-study students Beatrice Forman C’22 and Sam Kesler C’20 report on Penn Spectrum, which brought nearly 800 participants together on campus for a weekend of panels and talks, social and networking opportunities, and other events focusing on the concerns of black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ+, and Muslim alumni and students. And freelancer Julia Klein provides an update on the Penn Museum’s continuing “Building Transformation” effort—including the unveiling of the famous Sphinx in its new setting near the main entrance, reimagined galleries for Mexico and Central America and Africa, and extensive renovations to Harrison Auditorium.
Finally, this is also the issue in which we acknowledge the winners of the Alumni Awards of Merit, as well as this year’s Creative Spirit Award, which went to composer Jennifer Higden G’92 Gr’94—congratulations to all! Please read their citations and check out the photos from Homecoming 2019.
—John Prendergast C’80