The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Adapting to Climate Change

Maddie Daly | Monday, April 15, 2013

For my French culture class, we have been reading the book “Globalia,” a futuristic novel exaggerating the possibility of a complete change in our society resulting from the complete destruction of nature as we know it.  To supplement this reading, our class attended one of the Climate Change talks in McKenna Hall last Wednesday, presented by Jennie Hoffman.  

After walking into our regular classroom where the lights were off and the door locked, I remembered that our class was moved to McKenna and sprinted across the quad to make the talk on time.  When I arrived, I stepped into a circle with my classmates who all felt a bit out of place among what looked to be big-time scientists and professors.  After snatching some of the fancy free food, we entered the small yet official auditorium that reminded me of a courtroom (not that I’ve ever been in one, but if I had to picture what a courtroom looks like that would be it).  

Dr. Jennie Hoffman was introduced as a marine ecologist who has co-authored and edited “Buying Time: A User’s Manual for Building Resistance and Resilience to Climate Change in Natural Systems,” published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2003 as well as researched climate change for the past 10 years.  She began her talk by speaking of mitigation and adaptation, defined as what we do to decrease global climate change and what we do to limit the harm posed by climate change, respectively.  Clearly an expert on this topic, Hoffman provided a comparison we were able to wrap our heads around, designating good road designs as an example of mitigation and seat belts as an example of adaptation.  

Next she spoke about specific protected areas in South America.  She brought up a map of South America on her PowerPoint with areas color-coded based on environment type.  

“The Amazon rainforest is critically important,” Hoffman said, “as it’s a center of global biodiversity.  There is an all-out effort being made to protect this huge area of South America against the destruction of rain forests.”

Call me ignorant, but I never knew climate change in itself was turning the lush rain forests of South America into sparse savannah, yet according to Hoffman, this is a huge issue.  And despite all the efforts of ecologists, the chances of saving the endangered rain forests are low. 

“They put in all this effort to protect South America and only about a third of that area is certain to remain as tropical rain forest,” Hoffman said.  “The other two-thirds, because of climate change, no matter how good we are at mitigation, may or may not remain forest.  In fact, one-third of that is almost guaranteed to disappear.”

It impresses me how much time and effort people are willing to invest in these projects that have such a low success rate, but at the same time I am glad of their efforts because we are all depending on them.  Whether we realize it or not, without ecologists like Dr. Jennie Hoffman, I am certain our world would be far worse off than it already is and most of us would be completely clueless as to how to go about solving these ecological problems.  

Her next example was more relatable as it referred to our world’s beaches.  Specifically she brought up the issue of sea turtles and their possible extinction.

“Sea turtles are a popular sight for tourists, but with the climate change their numbers are falling,” Hoffman said.  “The temperature of the nest determines the sex of the baby turtles, so the warmer the nest, the more females are hatched.  If there are too many females, the turtles are going to stop reproducing all together.”

I have always adored sea turtles and even owned a fresh water turtle for 10 years, so this example connected directly to my emotions.  She pointed out efforts of locals who have nightly shifts to protect the turtles (think of the scene in “The Last Song” where Miley sleeps outside to guard the turtle nest … don’t be ashamed, we’ve all seen it).  

Despite the efforts already being put forth by people like Dr. Jennie Hoffman, so much more needs to be done in order to protect our planet from becoming completely unrecognizable and possibly unlivable in the future.  Although attendance was required for my French class, I am glad I had the chance to listen to Dr. Hoffman’s climate change talk, and I hope it inspires others as well to at least become aware of the problem of climate change, if not put in an effort to change.