When most people first think of climate change, myself included, they first think of the direct impacts of the changing temperature. We all pull to mind buzzwords like greenhouse gases, rising ocean levels, melting ice, rising sea levels, and, if you’re from the Midwest like me, the polar vortex (wasn’t that terrible?)
But what too often gets forgotten are the issues associated with this change. How are people affected by climate change?
Tuesday December 9th was Gender Day at the United Nations International Conference on Climate Change. Now I can already mentally see you rolling your eyes at me, but please just hear me out.
Along with three other student delegates, I attended a session entitled “The Momentum of Change: Women for Results,” which has been one of the most empowering and invigorating discussions of the conference so far.
You may not know this, but climate change affects women more than it affects men. This is because 70% of those in poverty are women. They are the ones gathering food, collecting water, and taking care of their families.
At the same time, women are some of the most important agents for change when it comes to the environment. These powerful women are the ones educating the future generations and implementing technologies in their respective communities.
One of the most powerful groups that spoke was from an India based project called Bhungroo. In India, there are two dichotomous season: monsoon and drought. This makes it difficult to grow crops since there is either flooding or too little water. This innovation places a tube deep into the ground that collects water during the monsoon season and channels it into the ground. This stored water is then used during the drought season to guarantee all season crops.
If this was not enough, the project trains the poorest women to operate and own these plots of land with the technology. They are even given legal rights to the land as well as to the crops and income. This empowers the lowest class of women to take imitative and to actively participate in their own communities.
So far, this has helped over 18,000 farmers. What is even more, this has tripled the income of these women. This is truly a remarkable solution to a climate change issue that at the same time advocates climate equality and empowerment for women.
Although this is immensely significant, what was even more inspiring was the question section afterwards. A woman from Uganda in the audience stood up and stated that her country and region suffered from the same issue. The Bhungroo group immediately responded that they were willing and open to implementing the technology not just in Uganda, but to multiple countries across Africa.
Especially with American politics, it often seems like nothing gets done; it is simply all talk. Yet, here there were women banding together from across the globe actively solving problems and improving not only their own quality of life, but also all those around them.
This group session more than any other has inspired me to actually get out and do something. Women across the world are taking action, and I invite you to join us.
At the end of the day, climate change is not a political issue. Climate change is a human issue.
What’s the first step in meeting a world leader at the COP? Be on the lookout for a group of people that look either important or are holding a lot of papers.
So, we met an astronaut.
No kidding; it's even more exiting than meeting Leonardo DiCaprio. After we registered and got our bearings within the venue, the first place we wandered was the zone where many different countries get to put up different displays and host small side events (and also give away free stuff!). We found the U.S. Pavilion, and the main organization presenting there all week is NASA.
One of our students, Jade, had met employee of NASA Daniel Irwin on her way to our apartment the night she flew in; he was fluent in Spanish and they were staying in the same area, so he helped her arrive safely (and we couldn’t be more thankful for that). Luckily, when we went to the pavilion, he was there – with his good friend, the astronaut of fifteen years, Dr. Piers Sellers.
We got to talk to them both before any official presentations began. When speaking of the Hyperwall (pictured below of some not-so-impressive photos I took while we were there… you should really check out the NASA website to see amazing photos and videos that they simulate on the Hyperwall), Dr. Sellers looked at us with a clever smirk on his face and proudly proclaimed, “oh, wait until you see it. It’s better than Interstellar.”
When the presentation began, we could only see how right he was. It blew us all away. Eyes wide and up in front, it was almost too much to take in at once.
Most of the presentation comprised of data that was gathered purely via NASA satellites. In this single presentation, they went over how they could compile data into comprehensive videos and images of the salination levels in the oceans, the change in ocean currents, the ice coverage globally, fires that happen, and perhaps most poetically: they can show us how the earth breathes.
(See the video clip of this segment here: link.)
Think about it: as spring comes for the Northern Hemisphere, our trees sprout their leaves and our flowers peek up their sleepy heads. They breathe in carbon dioxide, taking it out of the atmosphere; and when it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s summer down in the Southern. Earth breathes in carbon dioxide in the summer, and exhales it in the winter. Like you or me, Mother Earth breathes.
Consider this in a way you might not have before. Consider the Earth as one functioning unit; as a body. And this is why climate change is so important; this is why we care. This system is fragile, and we are disturbing this gentle balance.
Luckily, NASA (and other organizations) has the technology to not only compile data into pretty videos, but they also have the ability to model how certain ecosystems will react to climate change. These are not guesses, or cartoons; they are realistic models built with copious amounts of data.
The scary part, though? With just a 4 degree Celsius change, we would be living in a world where we can’t make predictions. A change of just 4 degrees Celsius would cause a world so different from the one we’re currently in, none of our current, real-world data would be applicable.
And studies show we’re going to have to make some serious, serious changes if we want to stop at 2 degrees Celsius.
It’s hard to think of why we should care about climate change in a place like America. After all, climate change isn’t affecting us, right?
The sea level has already risen three inches. This might not sound like a lot, but this is across the entire planet. There’s more water on our planet than there is land, and enough has melted to cause it all, on average, to rise three inches. People in Miami, Florida are already having problems with sea water getting into their plumbing and sewage systems. Climate change is right on our door step, and she’s knocking.
However, with proper use of the models that NASA and other organizations produce—whether they are actual compositions of data or realistic models—it can help us avoid catastrophic disasters. For example, NASA was able to predict the movement of Hurricane Sandy of 2012 that saved the lives of thousands of people in New Jersey, because they knew they had to evacuate.
Beyond that, in the 1980s, when Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were banned by the Montreal Protocol in order to minimize the growth of the Ozone hole, we avoided a disasterous world.
What kind of world?
Let NASA show you.
Let’s hope that our world never becomes like the one on the right. We will not become a projection. We will fix our reality.
The start of week two began with the excitement of receiving our official badges at the conference! Eager to begin my adventure at the COP I spent most of the afternoon attending talks on how to achieve food security and agriculture advancement. Many of the lectures revolved around why farmers deserve to be recognized and how they play a major role in climate change. Farmers can help with integrating livestock and production so that we can have better consumption while tackling climate change.
Food security revolves around an ENTIRE chain of events. This includes the availability and access over time, the nutrition of food at all times, and the sustainability throughout production. Farmers need more support and financial aid for the work they put in which helps us achieve food security.
A big part of food security and agriculture includes the amount of undernourished people in the world. An example used compared whether someone being born in the year of a drought or major flooding would suffer more malnutrition than if you were not born in a year where there was major flooding or a drought. Therefore, climate change is affecting our health and we must take action now to sustain proper nutrition throughout the world.
The amount of uncertainty that comes along with climate change is hard to grasp. Facts and data only cover so much and there is still much more to discover. However, without a doubt food production IS changed by climate change and we know that now. Areas are already being impacted and some are suffering greatly. We rely on agriculture for food production and if anything, this is an easy concept to visualize and see that even on the day to day scale, climate change impacts us.
So what’s the next step?
The agriculture plan and the system between partners must use demonstrations that are actually working to help the food security and actually make profit.
Farmers and meteorologist MUST communicate and this will lead to a NEW generation of climatologists. Communication between those that provide climate information (climate scientists) and those who use climate information (farmers) need to have better connection in the future for sustainability (so… today).
These small farmers throughout the world have limited certainty due to climate change and have slim windows when predicting food production. They simply cannot get it wrong, not once.
The concept is simple; farmers bring the land and the skills, not the NGOs.
Sustaining climate change and analyzing protection strategies is one way to keep everything running on a positive note. RIGHT NOW we have enough food for everyone according to consumption patterns. The most prevalent are vegetables, fruits, and grains. Consumers are pushing for a more sustainable path; however we lose 1/3 of food in the world to waste/lost.
We MUST have more patience and discipline when it comes to food security and agriculture. Making a commitment to demonstrations that will actually work is a step in the right direction. Farmers absolutely deserve to make a living and consumers must recognize the value of food and the farmers that are behind the production of food.
Knowing WHAT we eat and WHY we eat it is also part of sustainability. Raising awareness on this cause is key to the long term negotiations that we are all striving toward. Awareness should start at a young age (kindergarten perhaps) and this should help educate youth so that we can produce a healthier generation. A healthy generation means more nutritious food and less health problems in the future for people to worry about.
All institutions working together for a real solution include the World Farmers Organization and why their voice of empowerment must be told.
Farmers are the agents of change!
Let’s get one thing straight: Lima Peru is amazing. From the smiling people to the mouth-watering food (oh the food), this city is bustling with life and more importantly, hope.
Now you might be asking yourself, why is this so, Nina? To fully understand that, we have to travel back a few months. This past August, I was chosen to represent the American Chemical Society at the United Nations International Conference on Climate Change. This is a chance for countries around the world to discuss, negotiate, and pledge to take better care of the environment.
Fast-forward four months through two very long plane rides, a few strange encounters at the airport, and a harrowing taxi ride, I am here in Lima, Peru traveling alone and abroad for the first time.
This trip has been full of new and exciting opportunities and I have only been here two days! Already, I toured San Francisco Cathedral, which was built in 1673 and has deep, dark, and dizzying catacombs full of bones and secrets. I laughed as three other girls and I crammed into the back of a taxi and tried to communicate with the driver who spoke no English. I stood outside the imperial castle, looking on at stoic and regal guards. I waded into the waves of the Pacific Ocean with other students, squealing at the frigid temperature.
Most importantly, I began to feel the excitement and energy of delegates, observers, and students uniting from every corner of the globe to discuss one of the most important issues of our generation: climate change.
I am going to be completely honest with you dear reader, I am a normal person. I never thought that I would be traveling around the world and actually have a voice in the global conversation. If I can do it, so can you.
To me, Lima represents the hope of the future. As roughly, 190 countries unite to accomplish an international agreement to take care of the environment, make your voice known. I know it seems like shouting into the void, but believe me, that cannot be farther from the truth. I am just a girl from the suburbs of Chicago, yet one opportunity has propelled me into one of the most thriving cities in the world. Join me on my journey, be a part of the excitement.
It's not very often that you have the power to change the future. For climate change, this is exactly what we can do.
The Lima talks and next year’s crunch in Paris are our generations’ best chance of a climate agreement.
That is why I am excited to be at COP 20. That is why COP 20 is important.
As I sat in my very small airplane seat on my way here I had six hours to contemplate the sheer magnitude of what has to be accomplished within the next year. We need the countries of the world to come together to create a universal climate agreement that is effective, clear and ambitious. WE NEED A LITTLE COOPERATION.
Does this seem a little lofty to you? While it may seem lofty, it is necessary.
The city of Lima was founded in 1535, and on Saturday we had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Church of San Francisco in central Lima. You can see a picture of this iconic church above.
The story of this church goes back hundreds of years. As we walked through its vast hallways full of history I began to reflect on how these climate talks will dictate our future, about how historic a climate agreement will truly be.
The momentum has been building over the first week of the COP. The first week students including Rachel, Barry, Kowan and Catherine have all headed home with a sense of hope about what may be accomplished over this next week.
Stay posted with us because there IS going to be big news this week.
Some hot (HOT) topics of the week:
CLIMATE FINANCE! What will happen? Will developing countries have the ability to build climate resilience while investing in renewable energy technology? Check out the Green Climate Fund. This is thought to be the main global fund for providing climate change finance. The goal is to create a fund of 10 billion dollars, and we’re off to a great start! The US has pledged 3 billion with Japan and Norway quickly followed with their own pledges (see what can happen with a little bit of leadership?) Check out this website for more info http://news.gcfund.org
“Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”: This is a fancy way to say what an individual county’s commitment will be to reduce green house gas emissions in the 2015 Paris agreement. Every country will put forth a commitment that (hopefully) is ambitious while also providing transparency as to how the emissions reductions will occur.
This message is for all negotiators. LET'S GET TO WORK.
The journey is going to be a rocky one (like mine today to the Pacific Ocean) but we will get there!
I have been in Lima, Peru for two days now. We flew in near 1 AM, and arrived at the apartment we’re renting at just about 3 AM. The view on the website was incredible, but as we drove up the cliffs of the Peruvian shore, winding our way past rocky beaches, I could tell that the website was not lying: this view is breathtaking.
Oddly enough, it is not this view or this apartment that is the most exciting part of this trip. Upon meeting up with the four students who had attended the first week, after confirming everyone was okay and everyone was happy, we asked:
“How has the COP been?”
COP 20 is the 20th Conference of Parties hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a conference that spans over two weeks, and we are lucky enough to have students attend and observe at both weeks. And despite after well over 12 hours of travelling, being in a foreign country where not many of us speak Spanish, and, oh yeah, it was 3 AM – we still stayed up for an hour talking about the previous week’s events. At 4 AM, we dragged ourselves to bed.
The next two days, since the COP was pretty much closed and we all knew we would have no time during the week, we did our share of sightseeing – but every spare moment, whether we were walking or sitting at dinner, was filled with talk of the COP.
“What do you expect?”
“What did you take out of it?”
“Who did you talk to?”
And, the most important question whenever you travel to a foreign country,
“How was the food?”
But in all seriousness, climate change was the talk of our group. The students from the first week got to meet so many people – important people – everywhere at the conference. Ranging from seeking them out after an informational session to sitting next to them on the bus, they were surrounded with appointed delegates from countries all over the world (from Japan to Paraguay to Brazil to the USA). All of us, students in the United States, presented with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really get involved in what’s going on.
More accurately: in our future.
Sitting so close to the Pacific Ocean as I type this, I can only look out and think and lament the day that a hurricane might come destroy this very shore. I can only thank that that day is not today, but with our planet’s climate changing so swiftly, who knows what might happen next year?
From what the first week students have told us, though, there’s one thing that we have.
After all, a conference such as the COP wouldn’t exist without hope. People wouldn’t be trying to fight for the future of our planet if they didn’t think it could be saved.
Do we have very serious consequences coming our way if we don’t change? Yes, absolutely. But that’s the greatest thing about climate change: it is completely within our power to change; to stop; to reverse.
The chance to attend this COP is a change in a lifetime for us. But, I know at least for me, it put a lot of the issues of climate change into perspective. And most importantly, we are not just here to observe.
We are here to learn.
And we will learn how to change the future.
Although it can seem that things move slowly at the COP, and that the slow gears of bureaucracy never seem to move, there are some projects going on around the world that make things seem a little better. There are countries that have implemented policies to help deal with emissions, and research being done into carbon sequestration and renewable energy possibilities.
Groups such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman), the UNDP (United Nations Development Program), and the United States Department of Energy have been working towards renewable energy possibilities
· In Saudi Arabia, there is currently a new desalination plant that is to be powered completely by solar power.
· In Indonesia, sustainable microhydro power plants are being installed to power rural areas, rather than power from fossil fuels.
· In the US, the DOE has been working on pilot projects for CO2 sequestration where CO2 is being injected underground and monitored.
So even though it can sometimes be discouraging to see all the disagreements about climate change and the reluctance to make a change, there is movement and momentum is gaining. There is a lot of research going into sustainable energy, carbon sequestration, and the implementation of these technologies.
More information can be found:
My time here at the COP has been just crazy. This whole experience is so overwhelming; there is so much to see and do at any given moment at the conference. There are countless side talks, covering a wide variety of topics and perspectives from different countries. I've heard presentations from third world countries, Indonesia, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Japan, among so many others! There is an amazing amount of information to take in here, and it is great to see what is going on with other countries and other organizations and their approach on how to tackle the massive problem of climate change. From this conference, my eyes have been opened to several issues I had never considered, namely adaptation.
Often, I've thought that the effects of climate change would only affect us in the distant future. I have never considered the fact that countries are being affected right now. As I'm writing this post, the super typhoon Hagupit is heading for the Philippines. The Philippines have been experiencing detrimental typhoons, and the frequency and strength of these storms is increasing, as a result of climate change. Africa has been seeing some of the largest effects, as temperature changes affect them threefold compared to the global average. They are seeing an increasing amount of floods and landslides. Cases of vector-borne diseases, like malaria, are rapidly increasing. The increase of temperature is harming some of their temperature-sensitive crops by decreasing their planting periods. This hurts the countries’ economic growth, decreases their already short supply of food, and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to recover as time passes and conditions worsen.
Countries already have to adapt to the effects of climate change, which is especially difficult for countries who cannot provide basic human needs to their nations as it is. So if you've heard about the significant donation that President Obama pledged to the Green Climate Fund, adaptation is one of the focuses of that fund. Developed countries donate to the Green Climate Fund in order to help developing countries with climate change adaptation projects as well as to help them develop sustainable practices. That fund serves a noble purpose, as developed countries hold a vast majority of the fault due to their incredible amount of carbon pollution over the years.
“It’s like we are on the Titanic heading right for the iceberg, and for some reason, we are simply just rearranging the chairs on the deck, and not trying to stop the ship from hitting the iceberg.”
After attending some talks and press conferences at COP20 about climate change and the Arctic, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that while it is critical that we slash emissions of carbon dioxide, we cannot forget about methane. As a greenhouse gas, methane is over 100 times more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide when it is first released into the atmosphere.
Due to increased melting of the Arctic ice sheet from continual warming, increased amounts of methane are being released into our atmosphere via melting of permafrost and vents on the ocean floor. There are alarming consequences if we leave this unchecked. We could see slower moving, more destructive storms, prolonged droughts, and torrential rainfalls in many places across the globe. Imagine the effect that this will have on infrastructure, the global economy, and society as a whole. Some have predicted that there will be mass chaos and conflict arising from the effects of an ice-free arctic.
It is time we implement measures that will slash emissions of greenhouse gases, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and slow the warming of the Arctic. If the Arctic stops warming, the thawing of the permafrost may slow and eventually stop, which would drastically cut methane emissions. There are some very interesting solutions that could prove to be viable options for us, including, but not limited to:
~ Carbon capture and storage
~ Increasing the amount of trees, algae and other vegetation around the world
~ Investing in cleaner, renewable energy sources, like solar and wind power
On November 30, 2014, The New York Times printed an article about the grave realities of climate change, they stated, “Even with a deal to stop the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warn, the world will become increasingly unpleasant. Without a deal, they say, the world could eventually become uninhabitable for humans.”
The time to invest in and develop these measures is NOW! We simply cannot afford to wait any longer! It is crucially important to our future!
WE MUST ACT QUICKLY AND DECISIVELY