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Notre Dame community members speak on climate change at South Bend Common Council meeting

| Tuesday, February 19, 2019

People of the Notre Dame and South Bend communities, all sporting bright green stickers reading “Climate Champions,” filtered into the the City County Building in downtown South Bend Monday for the South Bend Common Council meeting regarding climate change.

The room was filled — nearly to capacity — with young people, Notre Dame students and faculty who have teamed up to promote climate recovery in South Bend. This meeting, the first of two conversations on climate change with the Council, provides students with a platform to discuss the causes of climate change and the negative effects that have impacted South Bend and Notre Dame.

Ryan Kolakowski | The Observer

Notre Dame senior Tai Verbrugge speaks on the topic of climate change at a South Bend Common Council meeting Monday evening.

Alan Hamlet, a civil and environmental engineering professor, shared an overview of the effects climate change will have on South Bend and Notre Dame. Hamlet presented the results from the Indiana Climate Change Impact Assessment, a project of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center.

“What people do in the 21st century, it plays a very significant role in how warm climate gets in Indiana,” Hamlet said. “It’s very important, what we do in terms of mitigating or correcting the situation with too many greenhouse gases in the environment.”

Hamlet said South Bend residents need to be prepared for significant warming, even if practices are put in place to reduce carbon emissions. Models show average temperatures could increase between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit in Indiana, Hamlet said.

“These changes are extremely large,” he said. “If this happens, we will suffer severe impacts in Indiana and as a nation going forward.”

Notre Dame senior Tai Verbrugge shared his own concerns about climate change with the five present council members. He said that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached levels around 400 parts per million, higher than ever before in recorded history.

“The greenhouse effect gives us relatively straightforward logic,” Verbrugge said. “The more carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere, the hotter our planet gets.”

Verbrugge said that change must come from local communities like South Bend because national and global climate recovery efforts have not been taken seriously.

“The Paris Agreement calls on each of its 184 ratifying parties to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, though contributions vary country by country,” Verbrugge said. “Though the Paris Agreement went into force in 2016, the White House has since signaled that American withdrawal from that is on the table, so it’s clear that federal help in this is not necessarily coming.”

Senior Jacqueline Brebeck framed the impacts of climate change around South Bend and Notre Dame. A polar vortex brought sub-zero temperatures to South Bend with wind chills near 50 degrees below zero during the last week of January.

“A couple weeks ago, we all had the pleasure of experiencing the polar vortex,” Brebeck said. “It is named the polar vortex for a reason. It should stay there … When we were experiencing the polar vortex, Alaska was actually warmer than us and having not a bad day, so that is one very real scenario that has already happened in South Bend.”

Students from Good Shepherd Montessori School and John Adams High School aided Notre Students with their presentations. Council members Jo Broden and Jake Teshka led the audience in applause after the student presentations concluded.

Philip Sakimoto, the director of the Program in Academic Excellence at Notre Dame, shared a public comment near the end of the Common Council meeting.

“Wouldn’t it be great to, within the next month or two, hand Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] a climate recovery ordinance for his signature?” Sakimoto said. “Imagine him bringing that to the national stage saying that, ‘Look, this is what we did in South Bend. This is what the entire country can do.’”

The South Bend Common Council will reconvene on Feb. 27 to continue the conversation about climate change. Next week, the council will focus on local solutions, said Therese Dorau, the director of the South Bend Office of Sustainability. The council members expressed gratitude for the presenters and other students in attendance Monday night.

“First and foremost, let me all just thank you all,” Broden said. “What you have done tonight for our community and for our council is provide compelling science and compelling testimony. Your voices will not go unheard. Your plea will not go unanswered as far as I can help it.”

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