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Rotary Speaker Comes Full Circle

Diane Falconer

Diane Falconer’s journey has taken her, literally, around the world.
Falconer, who was raised in San Marino when she was known by her maiden name Diane Harwich, attended and later graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. While there, she received a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and traveled to the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia, from 1983-84, where she studied worked on her master’s degree as the Rotary Club of San Marino’s second international scholar.
Now a resident of Connecticut, Falconer virtually addressed the club last Thursday afternoon, saying her ambassadorial experience changed her life, so much so that she used it as the title of her presentation.
She even had a chance to rekindle her relationship with Rotarian Barbara Bice, who as Falconer’s college counselor suggested she apply for the scholarship.
Falconer began by showing a slide of the famous “Earthrise,” a photograph that was taken by astronauts aboard Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968.
“It was the first time that humans ever had a view of our entire planet from afar,” said Falconer. “It raised a whole new level of consciousness. It was the first time that we really understood that we are all one tiny living biosphere that is floating in an infinite space. It changed our global perspective and in a very similar way; my Rotary experience in Australia gave me a much more global perspective. I’ll be forever grateful to the Rotary Club of San Marino for this amazing opportunity.”
The experience had multiple impacts. While in Australia, Falconer’s brother, Matt Harwich, visited his sister and met the woman he would later marry. Matt and Fiona Harwich had three children, all of whom graduated from San Marino High School.
“We all have the San Marino Rotary Club to thank,” Falconer quipped.
Falconer recalled a day in 2017 when she attended an event in New York City that explored the perils of climate change. It caused her to wonder, “If the catastrophic implications that the scientist were telling us was true, why weren’t we all paying more attention?”
After hearing two presentations from the Woodwell Climate Research Center, Falconer told Rotarians she “had found my people. A very small, passionate group doing science that has the potential to dramatically affect the future.”
Falconer joined the board of directors for the nonprofit organization and has remained active ever since. She condensed her understanding of the group to say that “Earth is in serious trouble due to the release of excess greenhouse gases that are overheating the earth and having profound negative effects. Science has solutions; we have solutions that requite global cooperation and significant changes in our lifestyles and scientists need our help.”
Three recent calamities punctuate the need for attention to the climate in Falconer’s estimation: Hurricane Laura that ravaged Louisiana in August 2020, the California wildfires the next month, and the Texas freeze of February 2021.
“2020 had a record level of natural disasters that cost over $200 billion,” Falconer said.
Falconer noted that Woodwell is focusing on the Arctic and the tropics because negative effects are taking place 2-3 times faster in those locations. Record heat in the Arctic is causing the release of methane gas and sea levels are rising.
“This is all setting off a chain reaction of events in nature that are going to exacerbate the carbon release if we don’t put a stop to them now,” said Falconer. “The mantra here is we need to re-freeze the arctic. The rapid warming of the Arctic is likely linked to a dramatic shift in weather patterns throughout the world.”
She pointed out several lifestyle changes that will have a positive effect on the climate.
“We need to increase nature’s capacity to store carbon and decrease our own emissions,” she said. She touted solar and wind energy because “the net carbon cost has been greatly reduced while the benefits have been enhanced.”
Falconer also encouraged Rotarians to become a vegetarian and examine their choice of transportation — “An electric car is great,” she said.
She encouraged moving away from oil-based home energy, looking for opportunities where one can walk instead of drive, cutting back on air travel and advocating for the preservation of rainforests. She also encouraged consumers to “look at what you buy and who you buy it from.”
“If you just read a little bit about companies, you can learn a lot about them,” Falconer concluded. “Companies who are pledging to be net carbon zero, by a certain year. It makes a big difference.”


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