Professor: West Virginia faces challenges from climate change

Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter

Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology at The College of Wooster in Ohio, speaks Saturday about intergroup tension about the causes of extreme weather during a climate change conference at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia needs to come to terms with the fact that its coal economy is nearly over, a professor said Saturday at a climate change conference in Morgantown.

The shift to renewable energy and natural gas is a signal that state and local governments need to focus on what they can do to help those who depended on the coal mining industry, said Susan Clayton, a psychology professor at The College of Wooster in Ohio.

“It just makes sense to move to renewables,” Clayton said during a break at the conference at West Virginia University’s College of Law.

She and Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., hosted a conference session in Morgantown on the health impacts from climate change.

“People are waking up,” Susteren said, regarding the public recognizing the need to do such things as use public transportation and switch to plant-based fuels.

Clayton said natural disasters and warming weather can have negative impacts on physical health, mental well-being and social relationships.

“People are not as nice to each other when it’s hot,” Clayton said.

Natural disasters disrupt the delivery of food, water, shelter and health services, she said. They also can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, she added.

She said 49% of those who were in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 developed mood or anxiety disorders. Extreme weather also displaced seven million people across the globe in the first half of this year.

Climate change and renewable energy have been causing West Virginia to experience a “huge shift,” Susteren said.

“It’s still such a beautiful, lush area,” she said.

The loss of a job can cause stress from something as simple as not being able to afford air conditioning, Clayton said.

Meanwhile, retired University of Pittsburgh dean Bernard Goldstein in his keynote address said environmentalists are doing a bad job of educating those who believe climate change isn’t happening.

He said many people believe that “climate change is an excuse to take away constitutional rights to property.”

“We need to get to them,” Goldstein said. “Policy without science is gambling.”

Staff Writer

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley.

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