Symposium speaker: Differing perspectives critical in climate change debate

Mar. 29—LEWISBURG — Varying world views are vital to addressing climate change, according to performance artist and environmental advocate Peterson Toscano on Thursday.

Toscano, of Sunbury, spoke with humor, storytelling and advocacy as the keynote speaker of the 11th Sustainability Symposium at Bucknell University on Thursday. Perspectives on Sustainability was the theme of the event, hosted by Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment.

"We can care about the same things for different reasons," Toscano said to dozens of participants at the MacDonald Commons. "In the United States, that is incredibly critical. We have such slim majorities and we need to learn how to build coalitions. I do hope that in this room there are conservatives, and people of faith and there are people who represent a broad array of perspectives. That's what we need."

Toscano's discussion — titled "Art, Advocacy, and Action: Queer Lessons for Sustainable Futures" — offered a reimagining of environmentalism through a queer lens. Drawing parallels between the LGBTQ+ rights movement's strategic use of storytelling, art and advocacy, Peterson considered how these tactics can inspire a more inclusive and effective approach to sustainability.

Toscano said climate change is a topic that different people can care about for different reasons. He cited an example where he assisted three young conservatives who wanted to create a podcast about climate change.

One contributor came from an economic perspective of becoming energy-independent, another came from a religious perspective and becoming more self reliant in terms of national security and the third contributor came from a pro-life perspective of preserving life. The podcast is called Green Tea Party Radio.

Toscano said society is in a system built on fossil fuel, a world "trapped" and "held hostage" where citizens can't make the right choice. It's resulting in extreme weather events.

"It's not happening in the future," said Toscano. "It's happened in the past. It's going on. There are people who have already been displaced from their homes, who have been killed, who are experiencing mental health crises because of extreme weather events that have been magnified because of climate change."

Toscano said it is "an honor" to be on the planet right now in history.

"What an honor it is to be tasked with the work of making a sustainable world that is more kind, and just, and loving and works better," he said. "This is really big important work."

The symposium also featured a panel with Tulu Bayar, Art & Art History; Leandro Bonfim, Management & Organizations; Deborah Sills, Civil & Environmental Engineering; Austin Wadle, Civil & Environmental Engineering; and Peter Wilshusen, Environmental Studies & Sciences. There was also a Sustainability Expo with a range of research, creative works, and tabling showcasing sustainability and environment-related scholarship, action and more.

Dr. Shaunna Barnhart, the director of the Place Studies program, said each symposium has helped engage in discussion that furthers understanding in human environment interactions, showcase projects across disciplines and engages practitioners and researchers.