Loyola student Amanda Huegelmann summed up the new United Nations report on the impact of climate change in a single word: “Scary.”
Huegelmann, an environmental science major and co-president of Loyola’s Student Environmental Alliance (SEA), said the report shows “in our lifetimes, and very soon in our lifetimes … people will be facing increased hardships” brought on by dramatic changes in earth’s climate, which is warming rapidly, largely because of human factors such as pollution.
The report, released Oct. 8 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a United Nations organization which studies climate science — has captured the attention of many due to it’s harrowing timeline.
According to the report, the world will need to make drastic changes ahead of 2030 in order to avoid a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in temperature. However, if global warming continues at its current rate, earth is on track to reach this increase by 2040, which could lead to devastating environmental changes.
The report foreshadows potential consequences, including limited water availability, extreme weather and an increase in poverty and disadvantage among certain groups.
But as dire as the predictions seem, there are actions being taken and things students can do to combat global warming.
Loyola, for instance, has received praise for its environmental initiatives and was named the fourth “greenest” college in America by The Sierra Club, a national environmental organization. The university has committed to a Climate Action Plan which sets a goal to reach carbon neutrality, or a zero net emission of carbon gas, by 2025.
Loyola’s student government is calling for the university to shift to 100 percent renewable energy, according to Jaycie Weathers, chief sustainability officer for student government.
Renewable energy is energy produced through replenishable sources such as wind and solar rays. Loyola is looking into setting up a solar installation at Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus (LUREC) in Woodstock, a far northwest suburb of Chicago, Weathers, an environmental policy major, said.
A recent global move toward reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon — which contribute to the warming of the planet — came in the form of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement will bring 195 countries together in 2020 in a partially binding commitment to reduce their environmental impact and prevent earth’s temperature from rising by two degrees Celsius, according to the agreement.
The UN report signifies how the IPCC and the global climate community have transitioned from considering the impacts of a two degree to 1.5 degree escalation, according to Aaron Durnbaugh, Loyola’s director of sustainability.
“We understand more of the significance of what it means to raise temperatures by two degrees [Celcius] or more,” Durnbaugh said. “We are seeing an increase in all kinds of natural disasters and other big trends — wildfires, desertification — that we are realizing the significance of submitting that temperature increase.”
However, while the Paris Agreement is a “massive achievement” due to its success in setting up a system for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, according to Durnbaugh, the world still isn’t reducing emissions as effectively as needed.
“There’s nothing that’s demonstrated so far at least where we’ve been able to get serious in any meaningful way and I don’t just mean in this country, I mean globally,” Durnbaugh said.
While he noted small lifestyle changes such as choosing an environmentally friendly diet and recycling are important, Durnbaugh said Loyola students can make an impact with bigger decisions, such as where they choose to work or live in the future.
“Those big things really define your impact whether it’s buying a car, what size house or condo you buy, are you buying more than you need?” Durnbaugh said. “Those are the kinds of things that every single minute of every day … your impact has been defined by the decision that you’ve made in that moment.”
Huegelmann said students can find ways to connect their studies to the environment, no matter their major.
“To recognize where climate change will overlap with your studies and your future careers and to sort of integrate them I think is a way to … address the issues that the report outlines and to work sort of cohesively towards solutions,” the 22-year-old said.
Even so, the U.S. political scene is complicating attempts to halt global warming. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement signed by President Barack Obama. Because a country must wait three years before leaving the agreement, the U.S. can officially withdraw in 2020.
According to Weathers, the UN report shows the importance of holding corporations and governments accountable through voting.
“For me it’s more of an incentive to get young people involved in voting, get organized and take back our world that we’re inheriting,” Weathers, 21, said.
Durnbaugh said he thinks it’s going to take more than this most recent UN report to see monumental change.
“It’ll be storms hitting your community and you sort of coming to the reality that this is climate change induced … it’ll be how you see climate change impact your business specifically, your community specifically,” Durnbaugh said. “Unfortunately that’s what’s going to take the large scale change to happen.”
The IPCC couldn’t be reached for comment at the time of publication.