Humanities Festival focusing on climate change

Sep 27, 2017

For some, it would seem that a scholar in Romance Languages or a PhD in Literature would have little to add to the climate change conversation. The organizers of the 2017 Buffalo Humanities Festival were quick to disabuse that notion. Their assertion that the Humanities may be best-equipped to tackle the subject is at the heart of this weekend's festival.


"We pitch the festival as a festival of ideas," said David Castillo, Director of the Buffalo Humanities Institute. The 2017 Buffalo Humanities Festival, which begins Thursday night, has taken on the title of "Environments" with much of its extensive programming revolving around the climate change conversation.

When it comes to much of the current public discourse over climate change, Kari Winter, Executive Director of the Buffalo Humanities Institute, says "it is lacking in ethical imagination. It is lacking a storytelling capacity to persuade human beings that we are all interrelated."

Castillo picked up on that point, addressing the presence of "fake news, demagoguery and hate speech" that clog cultural discourse.

"It seems to us that it is more urgent than ever for the Arts and Humanities to reclaim a central position."

A panel discussion, "“Turning the Tide: Communicating Climate Science," kicks off the festival on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Scheduled participants include Jacqui Patterson, Director, NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program; Jason Briner, Associate Professor of Geology, University at Buffalo; Elizabeth Mazzolini, Assistant Professor of English, University at Buffalo; and  Adam Rome, Professor of History, University at Buffalo. Ryan McPherson, UB's Chief Sustainability Officer will serve as moderator. 

The three-day event scored a major coup in getting best-selling author and activist Bill McKibben as their Spotlight Speaker on Friday night at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Castillo went through a long process of reaching out to McKibben before getting him to agree to come to the Festival "to inspire us."

Author and activist Bill McKibben serves as the Spotlight Speaker for the Buffalo Humanities Festival on Friday night at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Credit Buffalo Humanities.org

McKibben, who spends most of his time in the Adirondacks and Vermont, has a "profound passion for the particularities for his place, (which) empowers him and rejuvenates him as he reaches outward," Winter said.

The Humanities Festival concludes on Saturday with a full day of events at Buffalo State's Rockwell Hall. Several scholars and experts have lined up to provide talks and presentations that approach environmental issues from a variety of angles.

Adam Rome, Professor of History, University at Buffalo, will present "My Walks with Olmsted" Rome, who has relocated to Buffalo in the last year, shares his view of the legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his potential lessons for the modern environmental discussion.

Professor Adam Rome is among the presenters on Saturday at the Buffalo Humanities Festival. He recently offered a preview of "My Walks with Olmsted" to WBFO.
Credit Buffalo.edu

"I think a lot of environmental issues we  think of them as trade offs. Either you do the environmental thing or you do something else," Rome said during a recent chat in Delaware Park. 

"I think Olmsted was saying, Nope. If we can't have it all, at least have a helluva lot. We could have communities that work in every way if we think about it and if we try."

As for the discussion on climate change, Rome says, "The festival is perfect for this."

Often the debate falls to science.

"But all the most interesting questions about the environment, what kind of environment we want and  how we're going to get there, are not technical questions," Rome said.

"They require some of the insights of the Humanities. History. Philosophy. Ethics. And the festival has some amazing talks."