You can feel it in the air: Winter's last gasp is starting to give way to warm sunshine. The Bluegrass countryside is returning to life, raising spirits after months of cold and gray.
Spring reminds us how closely we are tied to nature, despite all of our technology and hubris. Earth doesn't care about our political ideologies, and it has become less forgiving of our greed and foolishness.
If you are interested in what is happening to the planet, and what can be done about it, mark your calendar for the first week of April. That is when Kentucky hosts a series of lectures and conferences that look at our environmental challenges from different perspectives.
Charles Mann, an award-winning science writer for Atlantic Monthly, Science and Wired magazines, will speak at 7 p.m. on April 2. Mann is author of two best-selling books, 1491 and 1493, which look at what North America was like before Columbus landed and how European settlement began to change it.
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The lecture, in Worsham Theatre at the University of Kentucky Student Center, is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. They can be picked up at the Student Center ticket office, room 253, and room 200B of the Kentucky Tobacco Research Development Center, 1401 University Drive.
Mann's lecture sets the stage for an academic conference April 3-4 about the growing problem of invasive species and how climate change is affecting their spread. Kentucky is increasingly plagued by invasive species, such as bush honeysuckle and Asian carp, that do costly ecological damage.
UK's Climate Change Group presents a public forum at 7 p.m. on April 4, with three guest speakers discussing global warming from different perspectives. The forum in the UK Student Center ballroom is free and open to the public.
The first speaker is Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, evangelical Christian and author of the book, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. She will talk about the faith-based imperative for addressing climate change.
"The reality is that climate change is about thermometers and trend lines, not Republicans or Democrats," she wrote in a 2010 essay for The Washington Post. "It's about what has been happening on our planet since the Industrial Revolution, not whether the earth is 6,000 or 4 billion years old. It's about fundamental science that's been around for hundreds of years, not specious theories that haven't a prayer of being proven."
The second speaker is retired Brig. Gen. Steve M. Anderson, a self-described conservative who will talk about the national security implications of climate change and his belief that the military must develop renewable sources of energy.
The program's final speaker is Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina and president of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His talk is called, "Free Enterprise Approaches to Energy Security and Climate Change."
Inglis served six terms in the U.S. House and had a 93 percent rating from the American Conservative Union until Tea Partiers challenged him in the 2010 primary. The main issues were that he believes the scientific consensus that man's actions are contributing to climate change, and he backed a market-based plan to reduce carbon emissions.
After being defeated, Inglis had this to say about the GOP and its Tea Party faction: "It's a dangerous strategy to build conservatism on information and policies that are not credible."
The three presentations will be live-streamed at Ustream.tv/kyclimateforum.
A final conference, which has attracted the most well-known national figures, is sponsored by The Berry Center in New Castle, revisiting Kentucky writer Wendell Berry's influential 1975 book, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture.
Tickets are sold out for this conference, which is April 5 at Louisville's Brown Hotel and April 6 at St. Catharine College near Springfield, but there is a waiting list in case of cancellations. More information: Berrycenter.org.
The Unsetting of America was a collection of essays in which Berry criticized modern industrial agriculture's damage to land and water, as well as rural communities and economies. This conference will discuss possible remedies. Participants include Berry, journalist Bill Moyers and environmental writers Bill McKibben and Michael Pollan.
As rites of spring go, these discussions could be a good start.