Climate Change; Can We Recover?
On October 6th, the United Nations Climate Report came out, and the results were shocking; the earth is warming up at an accelerated and unprecedented rate. The report confirmed what many of us feared but not all fully understood.
The UN Report stated that the earth has warmed 1℃ to 1.2℃ since preindustrial times, which is entirely attributable to human activities. In the Paris Agreement of 2015, world leaders came together and agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the earth’s warming to under 2℃. Unfortunately, the report tells us that even meeting this ambitious goal would not be enough.
In 2015, our world leaders thought that 2℃ would be the warmest the earth’s temperature could rise without disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, we now know that a rise of 2 ℃ would be extremely destructive to our planet In a 1.5℃ world, the earth would already experience problems with the Arctic ice melting, extreme heat, water scarcity, animals and plants die off, coral reefs loss, sea level rises, and crop losses.
The difference between a 1.5º C global temperature increase and a 2.0º C increase are tremendous. In a 1.5º C world, Arctic sea ice may be able to survive the summer sun, rising temperatures will affect 14% of the world’s population, upwards of 350 million people in urban areas will be exposed to water shortages, and the number of coral reefs will greatly diminish. Though those prospects are terrifying, the implications of a 2.0º C world are even more alarming. In a 2.0º C world, Arctic sea ice is ten times more likely to melt, 37% of the global population will be affected by extreme heat, upwards of 411 million people will experience water shortages, and coral reefs will disappear altogether. Despite popular belief, this is not an issue that affects the distant future, but rather today.
President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on June 1st, 2017 not only had environmental implications but political ones as well. Upper School science teacher Lutz Holzinger states that it is important to know that “it’s all connected. The politics, economics, and governments are just complicit to keep the exploitation of planet earth and the people on this planet going.”
“We live in a profit-oriented society … Even though people want a clean environment, and people want action on climate change, it’s not happening because the political landscape is such that … making profits trump everything else,” said Mr. Holtzinger
The government’s inaction has also caused upset within the Packer community. Earth club leader Liv Furman (‘20), said that “the government’s role in the climate crisis, or lack thereof, charges me with frustration. Aside from failure to enact more rigid environmental policies, President Trump has actively taken steps to undo the majority of policies that were in place.”
Fortunately, there are people fighting back against the government’s negligence of climate change. The Supreme Court case, Juliana v. the United States, stands as a great example of people taking their future into their own hands. Juliana v. United States, a lawsuit where a group of teens and young adults are suing the United States for not taking serious action against climate change, has inspired many Packer students.
One inspired Packer student is Earth Club leader Anna Simmons (‘20). “The students who are at the forefront of this lawsuit, like students at Packer, are the next generation to be in control, and I think it is amazing that they are starting to take control now,” she said. “Now we just have to see if our government will listen. Does the Supreme Court really care about our future, or are they just going to do what is “right” for them politically at the moment?”
With the politicization of this environmental crisis, Anna asks a legitimate question; will the Supreme Court rule for the people or for the politics? Mr. Holzinger has hope for this Supreme Court case because he thinks that “historically speaking, any meaningful change came about because of the action of the people. Change happens because of people striking, protesting, being on the street saying, ‘enough is enough,’ and that is the only thing that will make a change in this crisis that we are facing.”
Within Packer, many agree that in order to further Packer’s goal of becoming more environmentally friendly, there must be an emphasis on educating students. Tene Howard, Director of Global Programs and Community Engagement, said that she feels “some Packer students understand the impact of climate change, but most aren’t educated. This isn’t just a Packer phenomenon; many people around the city and country aren’t thinking much about the seriousness of climate change.”
Liv agrees with Ms. Howard and added that if “the majority of the Upper School [was] interested in and passionate about the climate crisis, we would have about 400 kids wanting to take action. Regarding climate change, we could get a lot done.” Mr. Holzinger agrees because he thinks that it is “scientifically possible” to recover.
Overall, environmentally active Packer members want students to do three different things. Get educated, become more passionate and interested in the issue, and adopt the mindset that a small action can go a long way. After all, as Mr. Holzinger states, “the future existence of our species is in question.”