Skip to main content

Purdue Professor Jeffrey Dukes: ‘Climate Change the most challenging environmental issue we have’

Jeffrey Dukes
Jeffrey Dukes. Photo by Tom Campbell, Purdue Agriculture.

If people are serious about battling climate change, switching to LED bulbs may be a good start, but it won’t be enough, says AAAS Member Jeffrey Dukes, an ecologist at Purdue University.

“It gets you thinking about the issue, but the bottom line is we need to make major changes in things like our transportation networks and energy generation systems so when we flip the light switch, it’s clean energy that powers it,” Dukes says.

Dukes, one of 19 in a group of scientists, experts and leaders invited to join the AAAS’ advisory committee for the association’s “How We Respond” project, believes people everywhere should think about ways to lower their carbon footprint, for example by taking the subway, riding a bike, or some other alternate means of transportation. What about those who want more radical, immediate change?

They can help overhaul our entire energy system by pushing local utilities and politicians to use more solar or renewable energy on the grid, he says.

“One key message is that any one individual’s actions are not just to change their own life, [and they] are not going to solve this problem,” Dukes says. “We need to think about how to change collectively.”

The “How We Respond” report, released this week, shares multimedia stories of how scientists, nonprofits, local governments and businesses, and motivated individuals are taking action on climate change.

The overview report also summarizes climate change science, why action is needed now, how science supports decision-making and planning, ways to adapt to climate change and minimize its effects, and how this work can build resiliency.

As a member of the “How We Respond” advisory committee, Dukes gave AAAS insight based on his own experience with the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment, which he’s been working on for four years.

Dukes also helped edit the community spotlight story that focuses on Washington, D.C.’s transportation policies that help minimize emissions and pollution. Learning about case studies like these from across the United States exposed him to the interesting ways communities are responding to climate change that he otherwise wouldn’t know about, Dukes says.

Dukes, a AAAS Leshner Fellow in 2016-17, says he joined the committee because it’s an important AAAS initiative, and he’s a huge fan of the association. And he wanted to lend his expertise to a crucial cause.

“I think that climate change is a really important topic to be working on … and thinking about how we restructure our society to adapt it to the changing conditions.”

At Purdue University, Dukes’ research focuses on how environmental changes affect ecosystems in a variety of ways, with the bulk of his work centered on plants and soils. He’s looking to see how invasive species respond to climate change; whether they benefit to the harm of native species and reduce land benefits humans depend on.

Dukes also works as director of Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center and it is in that capacity that he helps coordinate the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment. This assessment gathers scientists and decision-makers from across the Hoosier state to develop reports on how climate change will impact state and local interests.

This assessment aims to put out accessible, credible climate science, allowing the people of Indiana to better understand risks related to climate change and create effective plans for a productive future.

The project convened experts to write 10 reports on topics including agriculture, health on different topics, including agriculture, health, tourism, and aquatic ecosystems —reports released on a rolling basis since March 2018. And the project asks stakeholders to share information they think scientists should know about climate change. It involves more than 100 experts and more than 50 organizations.

“Climate change is the biggest and most challenging long-term environmental issue that we have,” Dukes says. “It’s something that threatens many people and a lot of species around the world and I just felt it was important to try to understand it and try to help society figure out how we’re going to deal with it for a long time.”

Dukes frequently talks to people and groups around the state about this work, whether they’re attorneys, students, educators, church members, retirees, people in the energy industry, Kiwanis clubs and others.

He finds that most people he talks to are interested in what’s happening to our climate but haven’t had the opportunity to investigate the specifics on their own. They appreciate hearing the latest information and asking questions of somebody who’s already familiar with the science, he says.

The local press has embraced the work he’s doing, and he estimates there have been 500 articles about the reports.

“I feel like we get a little bit of traction in a place people might not have expected us to, so that makes the engagement work that I do all the more fun, because I feel like it’s actually leading to results,” Dukes says.

The “How We Respond” report strikes an uplifting tone to conquering climate rather than going negative. Dukes says that’s by design.

“If you want someone to think about how they can change the world for the better, you probably don’t want to just cripple them with depression and despair,” Dukes says, adding that the project’s goals are attracting allies, getting the community involved and helping everyone see how they benefit from tackling the issue. “It’s hard to address big problems like this without wide support.”

Blog Name