Communicating Climate Change

Megan Zagorski ’16, Environmental Leadership

Climate change surrounds us, yet sometimes the over-saturation causes people to disregard the urgency with which we need to act. Some find it difficult to comprehend the severe impacts of temperatures one degree warmer or a sea level that is one inch higher. This past week, the People’s Climate March launched these issues into the international spot light accompanied by an article published by the Audubon Society, a much anticipated climate summit held at the United Nations addressed climate concerns, and CBS reported on the state of the loons in Minnesota.

Last Sunday, September 21st , saw the largest climate march in history as an estimated 400,000 marchers descended on New York City in a march designed to focus global attention on the issue of climate change and the upcoming UN summit that held Tuesday. Unlike former climate marches, this one was distinguished by the presence of “young, diverse communities” ready to have their voices heard in the global discourse (Kieffer). The defining characteristic of this march was the shared humanity of participants because climate change does not distinguish between race, ethnicity, language, or income level. A special section for those immediately impacted by climate change saw Filipinos marching alongside youth from the Brooklyn organization El Puente. Hoping for this symbolic unity to become concrete inside UN headquarters, these marchers have shown that cooperation is still a valid possibility, but we must act now while we still can, including everyone, young and old, in a solution.

That solution will take a variety of approaches, some of which were stated on Tuesday at UN headquarters during the climate summit. Called by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon an “unprecedented and important gathering,” he called for a “clear, shared vision” in working on the two main objectives of the meeting, which included cutting carbon emissions and mobilizing political will. A Mayor’s Compact signed by 200 mayors called for a 12.4 – 16.4 per cent reduction in annual emissions, and various other companies pledged to lower emissions. These promises are a giant step forward. However, in 2020 how many of these promises and goals will have been met, let alone in 2100? As the memory and spirit of cooperation fade, will these mayors and companies still have the political will to follow through? More needed than any number of promises, however persuasive they may seem, political willpower will allow us to follow through with the statements made this week. When your will weakens, it always helps to have a source of motivation to continue the fight.

One such motivational symbol can be found in the Common Loon, Gavia immer. Who is not moved by their haunting call or the majestic site of a loon gliding along a lake resplendent in its aptly named necklace and snowflake-patterned back? There is a reason the loon is a symbol of the American wilderness, however the loon is in imminent peril from climate change. And it is not the only one. A recent report by the Audubon Society shows that nearly half of America’s bird species will be negatively impacted by climate change, including other recognizable and beloved species like eagles and hummingbirds. As CBS reported, with rising temperatures, fish are dying and forcing loons farther north. While scientists are testing whether loons can adapt to warmer climates, testing has just begun. If enough people recognize the beauty we may lose and pressure their politicians, it may provide the necessary political will. Putting an image to the potential crisis makes a larger impact by bringing the issue closer to home. Species in our own backyard will soon be irreversibly impacted. Dare we not act?