As a young boy growing up, Donald Axelrad always had an interest in science. His curiosity soon blossomed into a desire to learn more about the world and the environment.
It didn’t just stop there. Axelrad’s interest in environmental science skyrocketed when he discovered Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Springs,” which discusses topics involving pollution and human wildlife.
Years later, now a professor at FAMU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Axelrad believes that it is his duty to inform both his students and the world about climate change.
“Climate change is our No. 1 health concern in this world. Unless we deal with it now, it will cause a significant amount of money and a lot of damage to our planet,” he said.
Axelrad started his education at Wayne State University in Detroit where he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and soon went on to receive his master’s and doctorate, which both involved a concentration in environment and pollution.
As Axelrad flipped through a stack of notes on his desk, he stumbled upon the term polar vortex.
Polar vortex is a term that was coined by scientists dating back to 1853 that described a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of Earth’s poles. As the vortex expands it sends cold air southward causing extremely cold temperatures.
Earlier this year several places in the Midwest and East Coast experienced below-freezing temperatures caused by the polar vortex. To some this phenomenon is an obvious correlation to climate change but many still don’t believe the two relate.
“What happened in those areas doesn’t prove that it was caused by climate change, it just proves that there was a polar vortex. There hasn’t been long enough studies to prove a direct correlation, but the physics is consistent that it is caused by climate change,” Axelrad said.
One of the main human causes of climate change in the world is an increase in carbon dioxide and human fossil fuels. Humans have increased carbon dioxide levels in the air by 43 percent.
These increases are affecting agriculture and eliminating safe areas where food can be grown.
“Americans are getting fed because we’re fortunate we’re rich, but we have people in developing countries who are not getting fed because simple things happening like sea water intrusion. You can’t grow corn where the soil is salty,” he said.
As Axelrad continued to explain the affects of climate change on agriculture, Hannah Lowenthal, an environmental science major who regularly stops by to read Axelrad’s lectures, joined in on the conversation.
Lowenthal said, “When I talk to Professor Axelrad I get a more human perspective on how climate change affects the world. We don’t hear how it affects people over time; he is always more than willing to share information with his students and he is just so passionate about what he does.”
Although Axelrad’s greatest passion is teaching, his outreach doesn’t stop in the classroom.
Axelrad teamed up with FAMU associate professor of environmental health Alan Becker, where the two explored lead levels in drinking water in Tallahassee.
Over the course of three days the two visited 24 different schools in Leon and and Wakulla counties.
Becker describes his time working alongside Axelrad as inspirational. “He has an exceptional passion for his students and for research, on his part it took a lot to organize all of the schools we did research on, sometimes coming across 10-12 hour days,” he said.
While his goal is to continue to become more educated on climate change, the journey doesn’t stop there.
“We have to make a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If we don’t do much we will be in a lot of trouble,” he said.