Loyola welcomed a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and leader in human rights to the fourth annual Climate Change Conference on March 16. Mary Robinson spoke of her experiences where she saw first-hand effects climate change had on the world’s poorest populations.
Robinson served as the first female president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997. Robinson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her efforts in fighting for human rights through her position on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and her non-governmental organization, the Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice.
This year’s conference, hosted by Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Science (IES), focused on how climate change affects each of us. It was held in a two-day period: The first day held a speech from the visiting speaker Mary Robinson and the second included discussion panels and tours of the IES on March 17.
From wildfires and droughts on the West Coast to constant flooding on the East Coast, extreme weather is becoming the norm. This inspired Loyola to base this year’s conference on how this impacts people’s quality of life, the theme name being Climate Justice: The Struggle for Our Common Home.
As the planet has warmed, it has triggered immense changes to the global climate.
Unpredictable extreme weather has increased greatly over the past 50 years, from the number of heat waves rising by 30 percent to the number of hurricanes rising by 20 percent, according to the National Climate Assessment.
“The speech was meaningful and brought some serious issues and circumstances to consider, like what our planet is going to be like in 2050 if we keep living the way we do now,” said first-year software engineering major Justin Huang.
Robinson addressed a full house of almost 700 people and spoke about how climate change undermines basic human rights globally by taking away their food and water. She shared her experiences working with the impoverished in Western Africa and said their communities were harmed by climate change.
“I heard a constant refrain [of] ‘Things are so much worse,’” said Robinson, speaking of her excursion to poverty stricken regions of Western Africa. “What was much worse was the unpredictable weather, rains weren’t coming in Liberia as scheduled.”
Since 2004 unpredictable weather, such as droughts and flash floods, has caused the impoverished populations of developing countries like Liberia to suffer, said Robinson. Liberia’s agriculture has been completely destroyed since 2011 by the unpredictable weather and access to safe, nutritious food became limited, according to Front Page Africa.
As the world’s population increases, climate change will have an even bigger effect, from the flooding of large coastal cities to even further food scarcity with more mouths to feed, according to Science Magazine.
“We are at 7.4 billion people on Earth today, by 2050 we will be at 9 billion,” Robinson said. “I do think of that world a lot. How will that world have food? How will that world have clean soil and air?”
As populations increase and extreme weather becomes more frequent, basic human rights will become a rare commodity among the poor, according to the UN. Climate refugees — migrants forced out of their home due to changes in their local environment — will force hundreds of millions to relocate worldwide, according to the Harvard Environmental Law Review.
Experts predict agriculture will also take a hit from climate change, rapidly decreasing the global food supply, and what is now happening to Liberia and Uganda will happen in most parts of the world, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
But, through all this darkness, Robinson finds optimism.
“If you have hope, then you tend to be able to see what is there that you can work with. It’s the energy to make a difference,” she said.
Robinson said she’s hopeful nations will take action, especially with the Paris Climate Agreement. The deal, set up by the UN, includes hundreds of countries that have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint and take action against climate change.
Trump’s administration has said the United States will pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. But, Robinson said the United States should take responsibility for the agreement it signed and to fight for sustainability.
“The [United States] would become a rogue state if it doesn’t fulfill its agreement stated on the Paris Agreement,” said Robinson.
After the talk, the IES held panels responding to Robinson’s keynote address and discussing the future of climate change and activism.