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ODU's Hans-Peter Plag Among Diverse Speakers at TEDx Hampton Roads

Photo of Hans-Peter Plag addressing TEDx Hampton RoadsHans-Peter Plag

Hans-Peter Plag, a world-renowned researcher in the areas of climate change and sea level rise, took the stage at TEDx Hampton Roads and agreed with an earlier speaker about the need to have fun.

Plag, professor of oceanography and director of Old Dominion University's Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute (MARI), said his challenge is having fun while "scaring the heck out of people," about the potentially devastating effects to coastal areas from rising sea levels.

Because of rising temperatures in the past 100 years, "our children will have to live in a new planet that is completely unlike anything mankind has ever seen. That is a very difficult task we are leaving to them," Plag said.

In his remarks during the TEDx Hampton Roads event at ODU's Ted Constant Convocation Center Friday, June 20, Plag demonstrated in concrete terms the dramatic changes to the earth's climate that are occurring, with forecasts for sea levels to rise as much as 15 feet in the next 300 years.

MARI is designed to be a think tank to develop and support coastal resiliency strategies. Plag told the TEDx Hampton Roads audience that Old Dominion University's research expertise, plus the geography of the region, make it a perfect forum to figure out the best way to mitigate the potential damage.

"We are all learning to adapt to a transient coast. Hampton Roads is a national laboratory for climate change and sea level rise, and could be for the entire world," Plag said.

In fact, at the recent TechSurge conference hosted by Old Dominion University June 5-6, government, military, industry and academic leaders agreed to join forces to create a comprehensive local response to increased flooding from rising sea levels and climate change that can serve as a template for coastal planners around the nation.

Plag concluded his remarks by noting that the Earth's interests frequently take a back seat to economic interests when, in fact, it should be the opposite.

"What is good for life's support system is always good for us, and for our children," he said.

TEDx Hampton Roads was sponsored by Dominion Enterprises and Old Dominion University. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED events, which have been held around the country, bring leaders in those respective subject areas together to discuss ideas that are, collectively, shaping our future. In addition to Plag, TEDx Hampton Roads speakers included naval innovator Ben Kohlmann, chef Chris Hill and Lynne Seagle, executive director of the Hope-House Foundation.

Zach Miller, managing director of Hatch, a small business incubator in downtown Norfolk, started his TEDx address with an analogy about microbrewing. Miller said there has been a boom in microbrewing in Hampton Roads, which has not only brought out brewer entrepreneurs, but also provided a relaxed space for the next generation of aspiring business owners to talk about their ideas, while enjoying a great beverage.

Miller said informal conversations like these, when added up, can lead to real economic growth.

"We're not looking for four 1,000-employee companies in Hampton Roads, we're looking for 1,000 four-employee ones," he said.

Miller is working with leaders of ODU's entrepreneurial initiative, co-hosting the business start-up competition "Start Norfolk," and incubating the business ideas of several current and former ODU students at Hatch. He said that education plays an important role in the growth of an entrepreneurial culture, but not just in a classroom-instruction sense.

"Education is important, but not just for the learning you are taught in the classroom. It's exposure to ideas, the ability to try things, to innovate - learning your talents that you can use to contribute to the world," he said.