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Diana Liverman has spoken to audiences that included such notables as the Dalai Lama, but she’ll be really nervous when she takes the stage at the Fox Theatre on Wednesday to talk about how climate change affects the global food system.

“It’s a little bit intimidating,” said Liverman, co-director of the Institute of the Environment and professor of geography at the University of Arizona.

“I think this one’s more nerve-wracking because there will be so many of my friends and colleagues there. It’s a little better when you talk to strangers.”

Liverman is the first speaker in a series of lectures on food and its impact on health, culture and the environment, hosted by the UA’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The lectures are held each Wednesday at the Fox until Nov. 12.

She will speak about food and the changing environment — from global hunger to whether people will have access to chocolate and coffee in the future.

“I was asked to give a bit of a global overview on the global food problem, or global food systems,” Liverman said.

Liverman plans to surprise her audience with some good news about how the United Nations was able to reduce poverty and hunger in the past 25 years.

Things go from cheery to dreary, she warns.

“There’s a lot of good news, but the other foot drops and we realize that some of these positive changes are also creating a bit of an environmental crisis,” she said.

Liverman was born in Ghana and brought up in England. She became interested in the problem of poverty as a child, watching television commercials depicting starving children in Africa.

“You know, it was upsetting,” Liverman said, “and my grandmother would always say ‘Eat up this thing on your plate because of the starving kids in Africa.’”

While she was earning her Ph.D., people were just starting to realize that human beings were contributing to climate change. She’s been hooked on the topic ever since.

In her talk, Liverman wants to help people understand how our food choices can affect the climate.

“A lot of people are not aware that our food system is actually a big cause of climate change and this is a growing issue,” Liverman said.

“It’s the debate about sort of eating meat and climate change. I’m not a vegetarian, but I eat less meat than I used to.”

She also wants to remain optimistic.

“I want people to feel like ‘My gosh, if we could halve poverty, surely we can solve the climate problem, too,’” Liverman said.

Despite the global scale of the talk, Liverman hopes to bring it back to household topics.

“I think I’m going to try to have people think about what climate change means in their own household,” Liverman said, “whether it’s that coffee’s going to cost more or they need to think about what they feed their pet.”

Liverman also expects to enjoy the evening despite her nervousness.

“I love that we’re doing this downtown,” she said. “I really believe that University of Arizona needs to connect more to our community.”

Dan Desrochers is a NASA Space Grant intern at the Arizona Daily Star.


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