Matt Han / Gavel Media

Panel Sheds Light on Challenges Facing the Planet

Catholic Relief Services, in conjunction with the Volunteer and Service Learning Center, EcoPledge, and the Geology Club, hosted Perspectives on Climate Change on Tuesday night, a panel discussion conducted by faculty from various departments.

Moderated by Tara Gareau, director of the environmental studies program, the conversation featured Nichola Minott, visiting assistant professor with the international studies program; Jeremy Shakun, associate professor in Earth and environmental sciences; Juliet Schor, an economist and professor of sociology; and Andrea Vicini, S.J., associate professor of theology.

Providing context for the different topics mentioned during the lecture, Gareau shared an October 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found that the planet is 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level.

“Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1°C of global warming,” she added.

Such a dramatic shift in temperature, Gareau continued, has a massive impact on the sea level, which has risen by 200 to 250 millimeters (eight to ten inches) with a recent rate of 3.3 millimeters each year.

Furthermore, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are increasing at a disturbing pace.

“As we put that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it stays there and accumulates over time,”  Gareau explained.

The IPCC suggests that countries must decrease their CO2 emissions to net zero from 2020 to as early as 2040 to stabilize at 1.5°C and mitigate the growing, disastrous effects of climate change.

Minott pointed to her time in the Peace Corps in Paraguay as instrumental in determining her career. Coupled with her own socioeconomic background and experiences as a woman of color and citizen of the Global South, this experience sparked her interest in environment, politics, conflict, and social justice.

Schor reflected on the narrative that many economists pushed during the 1980s, which declared that “the combination of markets and technology would basically solve environmental problems” and that “there really aren’t any limits to the planet.” Those ideas eventually struck Schor as unrealistic and impractical, contributing to her shift in focus to the environment and sociology

Suggesting that recent climate change is historically anomalous, Shakun explained that the global temperature fluctuated within the range of 1°C for 10,000 years and has only just now risen above that point. He suggested that the pace of warming is rapid and students will experience an increase of several degrees in their lifetime.

Shakun also stated that carbon emissions are the most important driver of climate change, and if the temperature were to increase by 4°C, the world “would look pretty unrecognizable.” He hypothesized that Boston would become like Virginia, Virginia like Florida, and Florida like the Sahara.

“The critical thing to know, though, is that that is all to be determined now,” said Shakun.“Your generation, these next several decades, that is where the curve bends or does not bend.”

Vicini then touched on the current impact of climate change, specifically in the Global South, where agricultural economies have already started to suffer and food shortages, malnutrition, and disease are becoming even more common. He also emphasized the catastrophic consequences of pollution, which claimed nine million lives in 2015—three times more than combined deaths from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Vicini cited the “desire of caring for others as people care for [him]” and the realization that “it is impossible to keep separate health and environment” as the basis for his work and his stance on climate change. He stressed the urgency of adopting cleaner lifestyles and finding solutions to the problems that we have created already.

While many people tout the Montreal Protocol, which phased out ozone-depleting substances, as an example of an effective international climate policy, Minott expressed concerns that the case was unique. She noted that reaching an agreement on an approach to climate change might prove difficult, if only due to the sheer number of governments, NGOs, and transnational organizations and corporations that would have to reach a consensus on the issue and potential solutions.

That fear did not diminish her sense of urgency, however, as she noted that climate change disproportionately impacts underprivileged and vulnerable populations.

“How we live our everyday lives—what we use, what we consume, what we throw away—all needs to change,”  Minott said.

Ultimately, the four panelists agreed that although lifestyle adjustments on the part of individuals were important, governments and major corporations need to curb their practices to have a real effect on climate change.

“In order to make the changes that we need to make, in order to really make a difference, you’re going to have to have the political will on the part of all governments to implement these changes,” Minott concluded.

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