Climate Change: Actions Speak Louder than Words

The United Nations Climate Change Conference was held this month in Bonn, Germany. Such conferences have played a central role in sending a message to the wider public and encouraging global leaders to reduce their carbon footprint. Unfortunately, participating in such talks and following through set goals are surprisingly not considered an indisputable obligation. It is thus no surprise that the United States had recently decided to step out of the Paris Agreement. Up until now, it may have been the case that climate talks were regarded as equally important as climate action. However, based on how far behind we are, action is much more indispensable.

Discussions on climate change have long been scientific, economic or political. But now it is time to reemphasize the social aspects, especially in terms of human rights and justice. “In 2016, the number of people internally displaced by natural disasters was three times higher than [those] displaced by war and conflict.”[1] That is startling. As could be seen from Syrian refugees, “climate displacement is becoming one of the world’s most powerful – and destabilizing – geopolitical forces…[since] disasters…contribute to…famine and overcrowded urban centers…[which then inflames] political unrest.”[2] Relatedly, the recent hurricanes that hit the United States demonstrate how poor people are impacted first and hardest regardless of a country’s affluence.

During college, I remember reading about a class titled ‘environmental communications.’ It focused on how to best communicate with various types of audiences. Many scientists have been unsuccessful at translating technical jargon into plain English. This made it difficult for ordinary folks to truly shift their mind, behavior and daily activities toward conservation. People tend to care more about their own discomfort with rising heat-waves and pay more attention to individual stories than numbers. Nonetheless, it is to our own benefit to fully comprehend climate change and its effect on all of us, including islanders, climate refugees, and yes, our future generations. According to Pope Francis, “we shouldn’t regard the environment as of mere instrumental value. We should consider it with awe and wonder…. Without this openness…our attitude will be that of masters,…ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on immediate needs.”[3]

Michael J. Sandel, author of What Money Can’t Buy, asks us to see climate change as a challenge to our morals. From a philosophical point of view, he asks whether carbon trading is appropriate and if it is comparable to the Roman Catholic medieval practice of indulgences.[3] Environmental finance may be a first step toward action but the practice itself is hypocritical since climate change was mainly caused by such monetization of nature. Relatedly, worldwide conferences with national leaders may also be a first step toward action but a more bottom-up approach that includes states, cities, locals and individuals can be much more faster, efficient and innovative. The small U.S. delegation in Bonn led by Al Gore, Michael R. Bloomberg and Jerry Brown seems to support this point. [4] Most importantly perhaps, each national pledge should now be an obligation.

We might know all the facts and all the necessary steps that need to be taken not to reach the 2°C threshold. But actually acting upon this knowledge is a whole different story. We need to understand the importance of nature and others directly affected by it not just factually but emotionally. Today, we live in a highly interconnected world; in fact, “the drought that hit wheat farms in…Kansas in 2010 ended up raising bread prices in Egypt…, helping to fuel its revolution in early 2011.” [5] Nonetheless, many developed nations such as the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom are going backwards, grasping onto nationalism. In a globalized world, we need to extend our empathy not just to those inside our immediate circle but to others far away unwittingly influenced by what we do everyday. Climate change knows no circle, and no national border.

Kate Park is a recent graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied Global Studies and Spanish. She is the Blogger for Global Governance and Digital Revolution Affairs.







[5] Friedman, T. L. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. New York: FSG Books, 2016. Print.