Going With the Flow (of Water) @COP23


COP23 marked the second Water Action Day held at a UN climate change conference, the first occurring last year in Marrakesh. This thematic day sponsored as part of the Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative brought together approximately 33 water agencies and other interested individuals and corporations to discuss the use of water as it relates to climate change and the strategies needed to promote better water management.

The GCA describes Water Action Day’s goal is “to build on our achievements in mainstreaming water into the global climate action agenda, enabling climate and water actors and their allies to learn from one another and engage as full partners in achieving a sustainable and resilient climate future for all people.”

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative, discussed how the infrastructure for clean drinking water access is difficult to achieve. This central theme was reflected throughout the conference, and contributed to one of the main focuses of Water Action Day revolving around water finance and how to build a sustainable system for water to prevent shortages in the coming years.

She also discussed how, unlike energy, water technology is not often seen as an investment, and how this perspective must change for sustainable water initiatives to progress.

GCA Media Briefing Panel on Energy, Water and Agriculture

Delia Paul, Thematic Expert for Poverty Reduction, Rights and Governance (Malaysia/Australia), discussed how many speakers throughout the day mentioned that their countries consider water an important part of their climate action plan, but they have yet to make the jump to financing it.

A number of other water-interested organizations discussed how water fit into larger themes they were advocating for. One such group—the #ClimateisWater campaign—encouraged countries to take water into account in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) and policies relating to other factors such as energy and health.

“The role of water as an integral pathway to build climate resilience and implement the Paris Agreement can never be overemphasized.”     -Alex Simalabwi with the Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWPSA) Executive Secretary, Head of the GWP Coordination Unit (CU) and Global Coordinator for the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP)

Discussions occurring at panels and side events during Water Action Day focused on addressing three categories surrounding use of water in implementing the Paris Agreement and building resilience. These focus areas were:

  1. Water knowledge to respond to climate uncertainty

Many participants advocated for incorporating nature-based practices such as biochar, permeable soils, and other applications.

“We would be wise to apply lessons from across the world, even traditional rural populations in Africa or Asia, which have the potential to inform innovative, sagacious and responsible resource management, to adapt our planet to climate variation’s onslaught. The knowledge is there, we just have to listen and tap into it.”  -Maggie White, Manager International Policies, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Co-Chair, Alliance for Global Water Adaption (AGWA) and Steering Committee Member of the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for urban resilience

A common theme was the importance of collecting and sharing data on water availability and use for best practices in water management when planning at all levels from government to families.

 “Indeed, the sustainable use of water for multiple purposes must remain a way of life and needs to be at the centre of building resilient cities or human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”     -Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for sustainable agriculture and food security

Farmland water management practices were important discussions, especially considering expected impacts of climate change.

“Some of the smartest applications of sustainable farming come from countries and regions such as the south of Morocco or Pakistan, to name just a few, which are naturally poor in access to water from rainfall and riverbeds.”     -James Dalton, Coordinator, Global Water Initiatives, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Overall, Water Action Day at COP23 was filled with important and innovative dialogues on the role of water in the climate debate, and brought together key stakeholders that will need to work together to promote sustainable water initiatives for the future.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels from Water Action Day!

GWP (Global Water Partnership) Media Briefing

GCA Water Round Table


A Vibrant Day Filled with Energy @COP23


Energy featured prominently at COP23 with the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Action Energy Day. Discussions on this day revolved around the energy transition and how to meet the Paris goals through decarbonization of electricity and energy systems in general.

The Sustainable Energy for All campaign forecasted how, “Energy Day at COP23 will tell the story of the ongoing energy transformation, showcase success stories, take stock of commitments made, and offer recommendations on the way forward.”

More than 300 delegates also attended Renewable Energy Day: Action on Climate and Accelerating Energy System Transformation organized by the International Renewable Energy agency (IRENA).

Sustainable Energy for All brings forth four main initiatives universally considered the success stories of the energy sector thus far:

  1. Three years flat carbon emissions
  1. Reduced demand for coal

“Renewable Energy has been the largest majority in terms of capacity addition to the global power sector the last three or four years in a row.”    -Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA

  1. Drop in solar, wind and battery prices

“[In just a few years] we could have PV cells that are ¼ the cost of what we are using today.”     -Alexey Tarasov, Lomonsav Moscow State University

  1. Increase in design and deployment of electric vehicles

 

One area that needs to be addressed further is how to build out energy efficiency measures in all end-use sectors of electricity, but especially in uses where emissions are difficult to decrease.

Sustainable Energy for All identified several courses of action needed:

  • build an evidence base and necessary actions as they relate to renewable energy
  • achieve greater efficiency in energy systems
  • create more connections between power and transport.

Several panelists presented how the discussion on power is basically over, renewable energy is becoming more and more accessible, building a business case for its use over coal and natural gas as it goes. Many countries are recognizing the need of renewable or sustainable energy usage as a means for reaching the Paris Agreement.

It is no longer a question of what do we need to do about energy, now the focus needs to shift to how will we make this transition, and how can we make it faster.

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, discussed how technology, such as battery storage, will play a key role in the future of sustainable energy and its ability to be transported and made widely available.

Some positives in this discussion included:

  • Energy technology is commonly seen as an investment.
  • Furthering this scenario of investment can lead to more research and development of technological energy solutions.
  • The last key piece to assisting this transition is a better policy framework surrounding renewable and other sustainable energy alternatives.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, welcomed delegates to the Renewable Energy Day events with this opening statement,

“Renewable energy is good for climate and good for growth, which is the key message that we are bringing to this climate change conference.”

As more and more countries realize the importance and benefits of renewable energy, they are willing to jump on board and help out however they can. This participation could lead to the breakthrough needed to make renewable energy systems readily available for all.

Some countries are already on board as noted in this statement by Sandy Pitcher, the Governor of South Australia, about the solar transition and especially renewable energy access or households,

“We are looking to go as fast as we can because we know its what our communities want.”

Energy Day at COP23 was the perfect opportunity for many different associations, countries and other researchers/activists involved in the energy scene to share ideas of how to make the transition to sustainable and renewable as quick and effective as possible.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels!

The Energy Transition Required to Implement the Paris Agreement

International Energy Association (IEA) Press Conference


The Challenges of the Energy-Water Nexus

Participants at UN Climate Talks are typically surrounded by discussions on a wide variety of climate impacts, climate solutions, and complex interactions. While it may seem like every issue is being discussed during numerous side panels and events, these same issues may not always be raised during the political side of the talks. Here, the focus often tends to rest on climate finance, Nationally Determined Contributions, adaptation/mitigation, and capacity building, with some topics such as gender and land use making an appearance.

One of the crucial issues not specifically included in this list is the energy-water nexus. It’s true that energy and water are woven into the issues discussed through technology, concerns for adaptation, and resilience, but energy-water nexus topics are often not independently discussed. The Paris Agreement states that without curbing emissions, there will be a massive concern for water resources, with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 and 7 set to specifically address water concerns. Even with the Paris Agreement in place, there may be many concerns about water availability and water quality in the future. Energy is more frequently addressed because of its importance in reaching the emission reduction plan set forth, but this does not consider the interactions between energy and water resources, nor how they may be impacted by climate change.

At COP23— the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)— held this November in Bonn, Germany the issues of water and energy took more of a center stage:

 

Energy Water Nexus Panel at COP23

 

The Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture stressed how everything that happens with climate, is linked to everything that happens with energy, is linked to everything that happens with water! Even a slight inefficiency in one area could lead to catastrophic impacts for the whole interaction.

As was aptly stated by René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “There is no room for inefficiency.”

Paulo Bretas de Almeida Salles, President of ADASA in Brazil (a regulatory agency for water and sanitation) presented concerns about water resources,

“There is a traditional idea that we have lots of water, that water is an infinite resource- now we are learning that this is not true.”

He also voiced the unmistakable connection that,

“Water and climate change are directly related… Everything that happens on earth based on climate has some relationship with water.”

In panel discussions, negotiators stressed how we need water to be able to provide and produce the necessities for this world, and discussed the connection between energy and water being that it takes energy to produce clean water and water is often needed to produce energy.

In the GCA Media Briefing they offered a summary of information:

  • Of total water use by humans, only 10% is safe drinking water; if even a small percentage of that water becomes unusable, there would be major impacts on availability worldwide.
  • Agriculture, on the other hand, uses 70% of total water use! The fact that this is such a high percentage opens the door for new advances in technology and water reduction strategies that would improve the world’s water situation.
  • One such technological advancement offers promise—renewable energy stands to use 20 times less water than conventional energy sources.

Both energy and water are resources with a history of being mismanaged, and both are resources that have a direct interaction with the forces of climate change. By including water and energy—both distinctly and as an interrelated force—in the discussion at COP23, new policies and guidelines can be established to more effectively manage these valuable resources and leverage them to our advantage in the fight against climate change.


The Climatic Arts

One of the greatest challenges of climate change is communication. How do we communicate the impacts of climate change? How can we make people recognize the severity of the situation? How can we present solutions is a positive light? How can we help people understand the complexities of the climate debate? 

While there is no one way to accomplish all of these goals, I experienced one creative approach this week- the intersection of climate and theatre. Theatre@Emory performed a series of short plays relating to climate change and its solutions as part ofthe worldwide initiative Climate Change Theatre Action, a collaboration between the Center for Sustainable Practice in the ArtsNoPassport Theatre Alliance, The Arctic CycleTheatre Without Borders, and York University.

All around the world, theatre groups performed short plays relating to this central theme:

Assume your audience knows as much as you do. Assume they are as concerned as you are. But they may not know what to do with this information and those concerns. So how can we turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities?

What I found particularly interesting about the performances and how they related to this theme, was how they wove the ideas of climate change into each of the plays. None of them outwardly mentioned the issue, but because we were an interested and concerned audience we were able to follow the message of these plays. It would be interesting to see how a less interested or concerned audience would respond to plays such as these.

Overall, the plays were powerfully done, very engaging, and effectively drew you into the story.

The first play—Blue Puzzle by Clare Duffy, featuring Julia Byrne—really spoke to the condition of the world today, especially describing how the world is filled with so much me and not enough us. This was shown through the eyes of a mother trying to provide for her child, while grappling with the change occurring around her. The play ended with the powerful message that change is inevitable, but we can use this change to our advantage to save the planet and ourselves.

Another play titled Rubik’s Cube Solution—written by Sarena Parmar, and featuring Angela Jiang, Eliza Paprin, Colleen Carroll and Elizabeth Johnson—compared the problem of climate change to solving a Rubik’s Cube. This challenge was literally thrown at the characters in the play by a nameless, authoritarian figure who continued to discourage them throughout the play, and who represented all of the challenges that are posed to the climate change debate. This play presented climate change as an unsolvable problem that they were running out of time to solve; however, by working together and using each of their collective strengths, the characters end up finding a possible creative solution to the cube.

The last play—Gaia by Hiro Kanazawa, featuring Victoria Hood, Julia Byrne, and Joel Hines—was a very powerful piece and was wonderfully staged to take place outside instead of in the theatre, which added to the connection with the Earth that the play was trying to convey. It started off with a more negative and downward turning feel, highlighting the threats and challenges posed to nature (especially those by humans), but as the play went on a shift occurred in the positive direction and the play ended in an uplifting and positive manner about how problems could be remedied.

Overall, these performances were a creative way to approach the issue of climate change and present possible solutions in a unique and unexpected way, one that hopefully a wider audience may be able to appreciate and respond to.


Environmental HiSTORY

Dr. Thomas D. Rogers http://history.emory.edu/ home/people/faculty/rogers-thomas.html

I was pleased to attend an on-campus lecture this week presented by Dr. Thomas Rogers. He is an Associate Professor in the College whose interests focus on modern Latin American history—especially Brazil—labor and environmental history, and Afro-Latin American history. Dr. Rogers is currently working on a book entitled Agriculture’s Energy: Development and Hunger During Brazil’s Ethanol Boom that discusses the advent of agriculture in Brazil, and how that played a role in shaping the country.

Dr. Rogers’s talk entitled “Environmental History’s Audience Challenge” highlighted some of the key points from his new book, and also sought to address the importance and use of environmental history. I would not describe myself as a history buff by any means, and this talk helped me to see more clearly how important history can be.

A brief synopsis of Brazil’s environmental history, specifically that of the The National Alcohol Program:

Around 1975, Brazil experienced its first oil shock, which led to the need for another fuel source. Sugar cane production boomed within a few years, as more and more forests were cut down to grow cane for ethanol production. This development was very rapid, and was an important step in the modernization of Brazil, but it led to an unfortunate outcome. As sugar production increased, so did waste and pollution.

One liter of ethanol produces 15 liters of waste, which is equivalent to the daily average waste produced by 7.5 people! Tons of water is used for washing the sugar cane, and for evaporation and distillation of the ethanol. More solid waste comes from all of the husks of the sugar cane, which isn’t used in production.

This increase in pollution rates can easily be tracked through newspaper coverage. In the early 1970’s, there was little coverage on pollution, but this increased as sugar cane production made the issue hard to ignore. At one point, half of industrial pollution came from sugar cane production alone.

Why is this especially interesting to us? Because of what happened after. 

A very clear process of steps followed that instituted more control around the growing issue of pollution. This process was similar to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States. It especially follows a similar waste case study that occurred in Hawaii just a few years prior to the process in Brazil, which goes like this:

  1. An aggressive industry creates some kind of environmental effect [Waste from massive sugar cane industry]
  2. Local activism leads to activism at a more federal level [Local areas protesting the waste in their watersheds]
  3. State action is triggered as a response to activism efforts
  4. Government action increases as activism moves up to the federal level [More pollution controls were instituted]

While this pattern is not a catchall for what happens during the modernization of agriculture and other industries, it does point us toward interesting patterns of development and responses at all levels of society.

What is the use of studying this and other aspects of environmental history?

This question reaches further into the future. Dr. Rogers described that the future of history is storytelling. That is, taking lessons from history and composing a narrative that tells a story to anyone willing to read it. People tend to approach history with the perspective that the world is a given and set in stone, but with history as a form of story telling this apprehension can be transformed into a thoughtful understanding of the world as made.

These lessons of history can be applied to policy, especially when considering the consciousness of the public-at-large, or when considering who may be an expert on recent issues. These lessons are also important for students, because in many ways historians = teachers.


Emory COP326

Tags :

Category : Blog , Climate Change Blog

Parties to the Emory World Climate Summit reached a landmark agreement on October 25 in Atlanta, making great strides to address the global climate effort. After three hours and two sessions of negotiations, the six blocs settled on an agreement that will limit global warming to 2ºC above pre-industrial global temperatures.

In the first round of negotiations, blocs stuck close to plans they had set coming into the COP talks. Little collaboration occurred between the countries, but they were still able to set a goal of 2.3ºC. Unfortunately, most countries did not contribute to the Green Climate Fund, which is worrisome to India and the bloc representing other developing countries.

The second round of negotiations showed blocs collaborating and forming alliances with each other, even if they deviated slightly from their original plans. An emphasis was placed on expanding the Green Climate Fund, although it unfortunately was still not enough, as the fund fell short by 42 billion dollars. The blocs established the goal of 2ºC, but without money from the Green Climate Fund it is unclear how the other developing countries bloc’s goals will be impacted.

Second Round of UN Climate Simulation Results

The interplay between groups added a fascinating element to the negotiation process. Particularly interesting was differing goals between the U.S. federal government and U.S. cities and states. Cities and states contributed double to the Green Climate Fund and set more aggressive emissions reduction goals, while the federal group was all too happy to let them take on the bulk of the work for climate action.

Negotiations between several blocs

Much of the interaction revolved around China’s role in the negotiations. China described itself as a developing country that should receive assistance similar to countries like India, while most of the delegates argued that China is well on its way to being developed and is close to passing U.S. GDP. The U.S. attempted to strike goals with China to encourage them to contribute to the Green Climate Fund. China stayed to their original plan of no contribution, preferring to trade technology with other developing countries without any questions of how money would be used.

The non-country roles add to the negotiation process. Fossil fuels lobbyists, often responsible for large portions of funding for the climate talks, attempted to work with the other developing countries bloc, offering increased support if they align with the fossil fuel industry. Climate activists worked closely with the EU and other developed countries to set sanctions on the U.S., which unfortunately were introduced in the last negotiation round and unable to be explored fully.

Reporter Press Release

Overall, this simulation offered unique insight into the climate negotiation process. A large part of the outcome hinged on the decisions of key players including the U.S., EU, and China, which reflects real-life negotiations as well. The other developing countries bloc did have a voice in the negotiations, but often only in so much that it helped another country look good and suit their needs. This simulation demonstrated the delicate balance that must be achieved between countries to make limiting global warming to a 2ºC increase a possibility.


Climate Change and the Media

Today, I will be participating in a World Climate Mock UN Negotiation as a member of the Press Corps. My task is to communicate the results of the negotiations to the public. While I may not hold any negotiating power, my power to influence as a journalist can be almost greater. I chose to represent the Guardian for this simulation because it is a new, highly active organization that is a leader in environmental coverage.

Media coverage of climate change in the United States is alarmingly low, as newspapers and other media sources respond to political pressures, wavering public interest, and other stressors by cutting science sections devoted to climate related issues. This is not true of the Guardian, a cross-continental news organization that has expanded its coverage of climate change and other environmental issues. In March of 2017, the Guardian announced new positions added to their award-winning environmental reporting team. They confirmed their dedication to communicating these issues stating, “There is mounting evidence that the extreme weather events of recent years are linked to man-made climate change which is already underway. This, coupled with the fact that 2016 was the hottest year on record, are just two examples of why there is a greater need than ever before for the kind of serious and innovative environmental journalism that the Guardian is renowned for.”

The Guardian was originally founded in 1821, with an environmental section first appearing around the year 2000. Hot topics at the time mostly revolved around genetically modified foods, with few news stories related to climate change. Now, many news stories written by the Guardian Environment, focus around some aspect of climate change.

Scientific consensus is a large focus of theGuardian’scoverage of climate change, especially in the United States. A subsection of their climate change area called Climate Consensus – the 97% is dedicated to this topic alone. In editorials, the Guardian discusses how they feel “almost certain” that manmade climate change is happening and expresses high belief in the scientific consensus, citing recent scientific discoveries such as the link between climate change and droughts in Kenya, and the three 500-year floods that Houston has experienced in a short three-year time span. News articles on the topic often take a more critical focus, examining how climate denial and skeptics interact with the scientific consensus especially among groups within the United States. The Guardian conducted a study into the issue, breaking apart the climate deniers’ position that scientific consensus is a myth.

Public opinion of climate change is commonly discussed in a number of news outlets. The Guardian analyzes the factors contributing to U.S. public opinion, and those factors that may be holding people back. One editorial piece describes how fossil fuel companies have led a campaign to mislead voters, resulting in decreased public opinion of climate change. Recent news stories focus on current climate policies supported by Americans that, unfortunately, have little chance of getting passed regardless of public opinion and support.

Societal change is a necessary component of climate action. Editorials in the Guardian present how climate litigation, enforcing policies, and holding large fossil fuel companies accountable for action, may be viable paths toward climate action. They acknowledge that the Paris Agreement is good, but that “Big Carbon” has influenced many politics. News stories take a more positive light focusing on recent innovations and initiatives that are taking steps toward overall societal change.

Infographic by Katelyn Boisvert using Piktochart Graphics

The Guardian utilizes many strategies to connect with and engage readers about climate change. Many news articles are solutions focused, presenting ways for readers to get involved with the discussion or take action. They connect with sites across the globe and partner with many groups, such as their recent partnering with the Skoll Foundation to create a serious on current climate impacts and solutions. The Guardian Environment is an award-winning reporting team focused on delivering authentic journalism that communicates the news and discusses issues related to climate change and other environmental topics in a way that informs the reader and supports societal change.


Groundhogs, Dice, and Climate Change

Dr. Marshall Shepherd http://geography.uga.edu/directory/people/j-marshall-shepherd

This past Monday, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Dr. Marshall Shepherd, the Director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. Dr. Shepherd is a renowned meteorologist, and in addition to teaching, hosts the Weather Channel Show Weather Geeks. He previously worked as a research meteorologist for NASA for 12 years, and served on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Science Advisory Board.

Dr. Shepherd’s talk entitled “Zombies, Cola, and Sports: Implications for communicating weather and climate change” highlighted some of the major challenges with communicating climate change to the public, and the downfalls of our current methods of communication. When I walked into this lecture, I had no idea what to expect from the title alone, but I discovered an engaging and informative presentation that addressed exactly what the title said it would. I walked out with a whole new outlook on communicating climate science.

When people hear the phrase climate change, many have an immediate thought or perception on the matter. It’s the same as with hurricanes and tornadoes. However, these perceptions are often wrong, and overcoming them is one of the greatest challenges of effective communication.

While climate change is still a disputed topic, most people would say that they understand the weather. If you are playing sports and it gets hot, oh well, you sweat a little more; but the second you see lightning, practice needs to stop. People assume that lightning is the more dangerous occurrence, but what they don’t realize is that heat is the deadliest natural phenomenon in that scenario. During Hurricane Harvey the people of Texas thought the hurricane would be the worst of what hit them, but this danger was nothing compared to the massive flooding that ensued from heavy rains. Heat and rain are familiar to people, and as such they tend to not consider their dangers. In addition, people still look toward unreliable sources as a means for their information. Dr. Shepherd recalled how he often receives emails from people asking him if he agrees with the groundhog’s forecast.

People tend to apply these same perceptions of weather to climate. They are the same after all, right? While the confusion between these terms is declining, the belief that they are the same thing is still held by many people. For all those confused, Dr. Shepherd has a great analogy: weather is your mood, climate is your personality.

More and more people are beginning to recognize the threat that climate change poses, including industries like Coca-Cola. However, there are still those who fail to recognize it. There is also a group of people who think that climate change is something to believe in, like the tooth fairy. So many times people will ask, “Do you believe in climate change?” People can believe in climate change only in the same way that they believe that gravity will make them fall if they jump off a building. As Dr. Shepherd said in his lecture, “Science is not a belief system!”

Almost more infamous than belief in climate change, is the recurring question, “Was that event caused by climate change?” Dr. Shepherd stated that this is an ill posed question. While climate change itself did not directly cause Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or Maria, it did play a role in its formation. Climate change encourages events to occur more frequently or with higher intensity—a result similar to playing a game with loaded dice.

Misinformation is another of the great challenges of climate communication. There are a number of theories, zombie theories as Dr. Shepherd likes to call them, which are just plain wrong theories about climate change.

They have been so programmed into the public’s system that many count these theories as true. This is the fuel of climate skeptics.

Overall, Dr. Shepherd described how it is difficult for people to imagine what they have never known, and how that makes it difficult to determine the best way to approach the topic of climate change. What works and what doesn’t is going to be different for different people, so we can’t deliver the message in the same way for everyone. The question is how do we communicate this threat? And this will still be a question for a while to come.


The Climate Tipping Point

Project Team: Katelyn Boisvert, Zola Berger-Schmitz, Olivia Keck, and Matthew Heldman

Recent polls reflect increasing belief that climate change is a problem, yet it still seems few are doing anything about it. This observation results from a phenomenon we have termed the “Climate Tipping Point,” that is the point where climate awareness leads to human initiated action.

Increasing climate change awareness is an important first step; but without additional motivation to tip a person to action, we cannot make the progress needed to address this issue. There is a gap in the percentage of people who view climate change as a problem and those that believe human action is necessary to combat it, which we described as the climate action gap. Understanding how to bridge the climate action gap is necessary to positively change human behaviors related to climate mitigation and adaptation.

What drives the disconnect between climate awareness and the belief that human action is necessary to combat the climate crisis, both at the individual and at the countrywide level?

This is a question gaining traction in the world of climate research and is the focus of our research project. Many studies explore the psychological factors that contribute to this disconnect at the individual level. Whether it’s faith that technology can solve the issue, failure to comprehend the impact of an individual action, or trouble comprehending the effects of incremental changes, many individuals believe that human-initiated action to reduce the effects of climate change is unnecessary.

Climate change education and policy implementation are good ways to influence people who view climate change as a major issue and just need to take that next step toward action. Many things could prompt this step, but costs and relevance of the climate action are good motivators. It is our hypothesis that risk perception, when people feel that their life is personally at risk, is a strong driver impacting an individual’s likelihood to take action to combat climate change.

Explore this background further with our first infographic! 

There is limited research on factors contributing to the climate action gap at a countrywidelevel, so we explored several factors that could be instrumental for policy implementation.

In 2015, Pew Research Center conducted the Global Attitudes Study sampling individuals from 40 countries, which included questions on climate change. A difference in population percentage of people who said climate change is a very/somewhat serious problem and those who said human action is necessary to reduce the effects of climate change was noted worldwide, which we calculated as the climate action gap and represented geographically.

Created by Katelyn Boisvert using Piktochart Graphics

Our research compared the climate action gap for each country against factors including economics, equality, education, and risk perception to explore their potential contribution as drivers for this behavior. Economics, measured by GDP, averaged a 6% higher climate action gap for the poorest 15 countries as compared to the richest 15 countries . Equality yielded a 3% higher climate gap for countries with a higher (more unequal) Gini Index. Education did not influence the climate action gap, suggesting that climate change education may not be the determining factor in motivating individuals toward climate action.

Another PEW survey question explored if people felt they would be personally affected by climate change, which we attributed as perceived risk. This value demonstrated a positive correlation when plotted against climate action showing that countries whose residents feel more at risk from climate change are more likely to believe human action is necessary to address it, and a trend was observed for those countries as presenting with lower climate action gaps.

Curious about our results? Check out our second infographic!

Understanding the interplay of these factors is important to inform climate policy and for its success, and should focus on the need for human-initiated action and building public support for climate-friendly solutions.

Wondering about specific policy examples? Check out our last infographic!

Are you victim to the climate action gap? If so, what will push you over the tipping point? Check out our podcast on this issue! 

A list of references can be viewed


Hurricane Pyro

Category : Blog , Environment Blog

Severe hurricanes are covered extensively in the news because of their relative infrequency and the utter destruction they bring. While wildfires are destructive, they are also a fairly regular occurrence in certain states, particularly those with hot or dry climates. So news of them tends not to travel much outside of the affected states’ borders. However, unlike hurricanes, we cando something about wildfires.

The past several weeks has seen the news filled with terrifying stories of hurricanes pummeling the southeast U.S. and our Caribbean territories, but behind the wall of water and wind laid the stories of roaring flames spreading across the west. Unfortunately, national coverage of these awful events did not spread as quickly as the flames, with most news stories occurring in state newspapers and relatively few in national news outlets.

While wildfires are a large blow for local community members, the wildfire’s impact extends far beyond. Many aspects of tourism are interrupted including visitors’ access to affected areas, and jobs and trade such as lodging and sales, and these losses continue even after the fire is extinguished. Damage to the natural resource of the trees themselves cannot be forgotten, as well as the loss of wildlife habitats. The economic and physical destruction caused by a major wildfire can be similar to a small hurricane, but there is action that can be taken to reduce the impact of a forest fire.

Fire was often used by Native Americans to open forests and promote biodiversity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the occasional small fire helps to thin areas, allowing new growth to develop, and that some species of plants are even dependent upon fire for dormant seeds to sprout.

In 1905, the U.S. Forest Service recognized wildfires as a hazard and began to suppress them, isolating plants from this important resource and indirectly promoting larger and more intense fires. This policy has since changed, but the time it was in force was enough to set our forests off kilter.

Without the natural balance obtained through frequent burning, forests grew denser, providing more fuel for fires to consume. Reports by the U.S. Forest Service have also shown that widespread insect outbreaks have led to an increase in the number of dead standing trees, or snags. These trees fuel wildfires, allowing them to traverse deeper into the forest and grow at times to uncontrollable levels.

Climate change also plays a part, especially its role in earlier snowmelt as a result of warmer summers has led to warm and dry climates that are the perfect atmosphere for fires to thrive. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that a 1°C increase in temperature could increase area of a forest burned during a fire by as much as 600 percent.

Some people may think that wildfires only impact the forest, but in fact the negative impacts of wildfires can stretch for miles and influence the whole state. Each year, 7-8 million acres of forest and grasslands burn, costing tens of millions of dollars for firefighting. The 2017 fire season alone has already cost over $2 billion, as compared to $1.6 billion last year as reported by the U.S. Forest Service. In addition, wildfires lead to reduced air quality and numerous other health impacts for those living in the area.

Recently, Oregon suffered a massive hit as a result of the Eagle Creek Fire, which burned an estimated 33,682 acres as reported by The Oregonian. Although this a relatively small acreage as opposed to some of Oregon’s historic fires, this one hit close to home.

The fire started in the area of Eagle Creek, quickly spreading west towards Portland and even jumping the Columbia River into Washington. There were 140 hikers evacuated from the area, and Highway 84, one of Oregon’s main thoroughfares, was shut down due to the fire.

Smoke from the fire rolled over Portland and stretched even farther west of the city. In some areas, ash built up to an inch in height covering resident’s driveways and patios. Portland residents Wesley and Cassie Boisvert described how the smoke caused hazy driving conditions and made your eyes sting. The air quality was so bad that they worried about bringing their young daughter outside. Residents with respiratory problems were advised to stay indoors. Even though the fire occurred four weeks ago, there is still a noticeable amount of smoke hanging in the air.

The damage was considerable within the forest. The trails in the Eagle Creek area, beloved by all those who live in Oregon, suffered large amounts of damage and continue to be closed to hikers. Residents followed the progress of the fire, heartbroken, afraid to check the news in case it brought worsening updates of the fire’s destruction, especially in the historic area of Multnomah Falls. As it was, the destruction of trails at Eagle Creek was a large hit to the community. For Oregonians, not being able to get out to that area of the gorge is sad and devastating. The access to nature is why people live in Oregon, as reflected by Portland resident Cassie.

The U.S. Forest Service and other forest management entities often face major legal issues when trying to employ methods such as forest thinning to prevent wildfires. Thinning a forest by specific cutting decreases forest density, thereby limiting the possible fuel for a fire. Many environmental groups view this practice the same as logging, but their viewpoint does not consider the destructive impacts a fire can have if it rages through a densely-packed forest.

Controlled burns are another resource management method that is more commonly employed today. Purposely burning sections of a forest helps to decrease density and contributes to ecosystems that require fire to survive.

While wildfires are typically a concern for the most vulnerable areas like California, Oregon, and Montana, it is important to support better policies for forest management and to work toward preventing the rise of major destructive wildfires. In the end, this may not be enough in the increasingly hot and dry climates of the west, but it gives us the fighting chance that might just be enough to save our forests.

 


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