By: Jillian Eller

Earlier this month, Geography and Urban Studies faculty members held a panel discussion titled, Can Humanity Avoid a Climate Breakdown? The IPCC Global Warming Report.

The panel was convened to discuss the implications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report, released and finalized in October. The report is an update to 2016’s Paris Climate Agreement in which world leaders established global warming standards. The agreement set a limit of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as the threshold increase of global temperatures to curtail climate change’s most vicious effects. A more ambitious approach includes the lower limit, 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would allow for a broader range of effects to be mitigated.

Playing a Dangerous Climate Experiment

The Geography and Urban Studies panel opened with a brief overview of the IPCC report. The Earth is predicted to hit the 1.5-2 degrees Celsius limit above pre-industrial warming between the years of 2030-2052. Globally we are already experiencing 1-degree Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. This warming contributes to wetter and hotter conditions worldwide and increases the frequency and intensity of major weather events.

The report also projects a nearly complete loss of coral reefs, 420 million people subjected to heat waves and more frequent, ice-free summers in the Arctic. All of these predictions have very strong impacts on human life and the environment as we know it.

To discuss these harrowing projections, Environmental Studies and Geography and Urban Studies Assistant Professor Kolson Schlosser moderated a panel of Associate Professor Christina Rosan, Assistant Professor Victor Gutierrez-Velez and Associate Professor Hamil Pearsall. Dr. Rosan incorporated the urban planning and sustainability dimension, Dr. Gutierrez-Velez advocated for a commitment to sustainability science and Pearsall integrated the human impacts of sustainability planning.

The conversation began with questions embodying themes of equity, political remedies and urban development perspectives. From there, the panel turned its sights toward understanding what the IPCC report means for individuals, cities, national governments and global institutions.

Dr. Pearsall noted the importance of demanding equitable outcomes in the process of sustainable development, especially in cities where classes are divided geographically. Cities are of particular interest in this discussion because of their human factors: steep inequities, the disenfranchisement of politics and a densely inhabited landscape coupled with the physicality of cities being primarily coastal.

Finding Ways to Reverse the Damage

Dr. Gutierrez-Velez spoke of ecosystem change, stating that policies cannot have influence until public awareness, values and emotions are incorporated into planning. The science is there to understand how globally we can reduce emissions by half, but there is a disproportionate trade-off in the goals and strategies of politicians and the public.

Dr. Rosan added to this consideration by asking how climate change affects everyone, drawing parallels between the recent surge of wildfires, droughts and hurricanes and the well-being of all. Cities step up to address the needs of people when national policies seemingly fail to provide solutions.

Panelists also took questions from the audience, either in person or over Twitter using the hashtag #GUSESClimatePanel. This enabled an interactive discussion in which College of Liberal Arts students who posed questions were also asked their answers. Students wanted to know what impact capitalism and neoliberal planning have on climate change, whether gaps in age equate to knowledge differentiators between generations and how the projection of industrialization influences the development of other nations’ policy implementations. 

The panelists responded with an emphasis on localized methods of climate resilience. They harped on the importance of considering economic impacts, incentivizing industry and making infrastructure adjustments. They also urged younger generations to push for mitigation, adaptation and resilience to climate change while not discounting the realities that older generations influence the political climate immensely.

Overall, the panel focused on the immediacy of action that needs to be taken to provide future generations with a quality of life that can support itself. The panelists want to see concerned citizens push for systematic changes and not rely on technological innovations to promote sustainable well-being. To avoid the IPCC report’s worst projections, everyone must reduce their personal energy consumption and evaluate materialistic tendencies with the understanding that a major disruption in a system that relies on economics as a proxy of growth is a viable path for promoting such change.

Jillian Eller is a graduating senior (December 2018) environmental studies major with a geography and urban studies minor and GIS certificate in Temple University's College of Liberal Arts.

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