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From COP27 to Notre Dame: Putting solidarity into practice

This November, world leaders, official negotiators, scientists and activists descended on a small resort town nestled in Egypt between Mount Sinai and the Red Sea for the yearly U.N. Climate Conference, COP27. I had the great privilege of traveling to attend this important event along with leaders and civil society members from around the world. Before you ask: No, I did not see the pyramids. I did, however, get to sit in on some of the conversations and negotiations which are going to shape our future. I shouted with people calling for change, celebrated when progress was made and shared in frustration at what was ignored.

As the conference came to a close, there was excitement around the historic decision to create a loss and damage fund designated for helping vulnerable communities most directly affected by the growing detrimental effects of climate change. This new innovation would help places like Pakistan, where just earlier this year deadly floods, exacerbated by climate change, killed over 1,500 people. Despite what many consider a big win, the 197 countries at the conference failed to produce an agreement for limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, failed to promise transitions away from fossil fuels and failed to generate the $100 billion dollars promised for sustainable transitions in developing countries. 

Coming back home to Notre Dame after the excitement, frustration, hope and fear from my week at COP27, it was somewhat shocking to find everything moving along as usual — students walking to class, boom-boom chicken salad in the dining hall and Duke, the Farley Hall dog, waiting to say hi from my rector’s room. But coming back, I couldn’t help but think of our home here in a bit of a different light. At Notre Dame, we are not exempt from the “throwaway culture” which has driven much of the exploitation and negligence leading to the climate crisis. While many encouraging steps have been taken here to reduce our impact on climate, there is still more that could be and needs to be done if we are to claim an identity of solidarity and concern for the common good

Just one example is where we invest. In 2018, more than 8 million people died from fossil fuel pollution, yet we still invest part of our endowment in something that is known to be deadly and detrimental to the climate. Pope Francis has laid out a Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which provides a framework for places like Notre Dame to take concrete steps toward climate justice, but Notre Dame has yet to adopt it. While at COP27, I spoke with climate activist Vanessa Nakate, and she was disappointed to hear that a place rooted in faith like ours fails to live up to our moral calling to care for creation and for our neighbors. Just like the United Nations Conference of the Parties, we still have more work to do. 

One step that we can all take is to show our legislators that we care through calls, visits or even emails! Even now, as Congress is working on the Fiscal Year budget for 2023, there is a proposal for $11 billion for international climate finance, which would help the U.S. to keep some of our promises to aid in the climate crisis and take responsibility for our contributions. If you would like to call your elected officials prior to the recess on Dec. 15, you can easily do so by following these instructions.

This does not depend entirely on institutions, either.  At COP27, even though governments were the ones making the official decisions, the many organizations and individuals working for climate justice gave me the most hope. Having more mindfulness about how our own actions might impact the climate on an individual level can promote change, whether that is having one more meatless meal every week, buying clothes second hand or finding times where we could take the (free!) public transportation around South Bend rather than driving our cars. I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to these things, but I truly believe that intentionality and accountability will help us to generate a culture of care for our planet and our community — both here in South Bend and all around the world. We all have a stake in caring for our planet, and we all must take part in working to protect it.

Annika Barron

junior

December 6

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Professors research resilient farmlands, housing in coastal areas and cities

The 2015 Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting global warming to below two, but preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

However, a report published by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) shows that while countries are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will not be enough to limit a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. 

While countries meet this month to negotiate and discuss the next steps relating to the climate change crisis at COP27, the 27th Conference of Parties hosted by the UNFCCC in Egypt, professors at Notre Dame are also working on climate change initiatives.

Galla Professor of Biological Sciences and director of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative Jennifer Tank’s research focuses on how agriculture impacts stream and freshwater ecosystems and how nutrients and carbon cycle in streams. 

Nutrient runoff from farm fields can be harmful to freshwater ecosystems because the runoff raises the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, causing algal blooms and low oxygen dead zones, Tank says. This process, known as eutrophication, results in excess algae and plant matter which eventually decompose, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide which contribute to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. 

Tank’s research involves working with farmers in the Midwest to implement conservation practices to mitigate and minimize the impact that farming has on freshwater. 

While her research documents ecological outcomes of conservation practices like cover crops and restoring floodplains, Tank said there is another piece to conservation associated with changing farmers’ behaviors and trying to incentivize them to adopt conservation practices. 

Tank further discussed how many farmers are concerned about environmental impacts but their primary concern is their agricultural yield.  

When negotiating with farmers, Tank said she leads with the “unpredictability and extreme events rather than climate change” because farmers know that the weather every year is uncertain, and this negatively impacts their productivity. 

Cover crops are beneficial for the environment, but they are also beneficial for farmers because they increase levels of carbon in soils which increases yields.

“The approach we take is to meet in the area of shared values, rather than trying to push an agenda,” Tank said. 

Co-authors Debra Javeline, associate professor of political science, and Tracy Kijewski-Correa, professor of engineering and global affairs, are also working on research looking at how to incentivize people to make more environmentally-conscious decisions. Their research relates to homeowners living in coastal areas and aims to inform insurers, leaders and policymakers about incentives to motivate homeowners to protect themselves.

“We are working with communities all over the world to try to understand how they are adapting to the acute effects of climate change as manifested in increased storm intensity, sea level rise and other factors in coastal areas,” Correa said. “Not only are we seeing more frequent disasters but every variety of disaster, from massive wildfires to flooding all across the United States and massive hurricanes in the southeast and Atlantic coasts, are driven by climate change.

These disasters result in losses of life and losses of hundreds of billions of dollars a year used to rebuild communities decimated after natural disasters. 

In an email, Javeline said that when a major event happens “we should not reflexively start paying the billions of dollars it costs to rebuild infrastructure in hazardous coastal locations.”

Instead, she suggested that people should consider where “infrastructure dollars are best spent, given climate change and the need to invest wisely in more sustainable locations.”

Correa recommends that policymakers incentivize families to make investments in their homes through a market-based approach that makes it attractive for people to invest in safe homes. Some of these policies include offering discounts on insurance premiums and real estate markets rewarding behaviors by raising the value of homes that adopt protective measures against flooding, strong winds and sea level rise. 

“This resilience benefits the homeowners, who don’t want to be stuck with the financial and emotional toll of losses, and it benefits the insurers who would otherwise have to pay for those losses,” Javeline said via email. 

While Correa and Javeline’s research focuses on coastal areas, professor of engineering and geosciences Harindra Joseph Fernando is investigating how climate change affects urban areas. 

Fernando is working with the Community Research on Climate and Urban Science (CROCUS) laboratory as a co-principal investigator to look at how climate change affects urban areas to build more resilient cities. The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

“Our research is focused on developing a quantitative understanding of the symbiosis between cities and their natural surroundings within the holistic climate system” to predict how climate variability will affect people living in urban areas, Fernando said via email. 

Fernando explained that the research will use computer simulations to understand how engineered elements like buildings, roads, pavements and industrial areas will affect the local environment. These models will guide mitigation strategies for environmental degradation.

The impacts of climate change influence a variety of different research topics, ranging from building resilient farmlands to incentivizing homeowners living in coastal areas to make investments in safer housing, to designing cities that can withstand climate change. 

There are many faculty whose work is informed by or impacted by climate change, and it is an interdisciplinary area of study.

“The ways we can think about climate change impacts as well as what we do next are so diverse,” Tank said.

Contact Caroline Collins at ccolli23@nd.edu

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Former Colombian president discusses climate, peace in Keough panel

Former Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos headlined a panel on environmental protection and peacebuilding at the Keough School of Global Affairs’ Washington, D.C. office Tuesday. He and other panelists discussed the relationship between climate change and international conflict, advocating for action on environmental risks to foster peace in climate-vulnerable countries.

In September, Santos, a distinguished policy fellow with the Keough School, delivered the annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy, highlighting peacebuilding. He was joined in the panel, entitled “The Interconnectedness of Peace and Nature Conservation,” by Daniela Raik, executive vice president of field operations at the science and policy nonprofit Conservation International, and Michael Keating, executive director of the European Institute for Peace.

“The acute environmental crisis and the growing security and comfort threats we face are interconnected,” Santos said. “Every day of inaction on the environmental crisis intensifies tomorrow’s security risks.”

He offered two examples of how the climate crisis seeds political conflict. 

“Transboundary water disputes are among the biggest climate security risks,” Santos said. “Climate-induced displacement and migration exacerbates tensions and conflict if met with inflammatory politics, and we’re seeing this all around the world.”

He called on wealthy countries to invest in “environmental integrity” rather than war. 

“The USA spends over $100 billion per year on defense, but less than $6 billion dollars on international climate finance,” Santos said. “Governments must stop spending trillions of dollars per year that stoke insecurity and conflict.”

In 2016, Santos was the sole recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in shaping the Colombian Peace Accord, an agreement that ended the country’s 52-year armed conflict — the longest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere. Santos said this experience, as well as Colombia’s Indigenous population, drove his interest in environmental issues. 

“‘Make peace with the FARC,’” Santos said Indigenous leaders told him, referring to the guerrilla army with whom the Colombian government entered the Peace Accord. “‘But also, make peace with nature.’”

Calls for environmental action in Colombia track with the country’s unique climate. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country in the world and the most biodiverse per square kilometer.

Daniela Raik also emphasized the critical role of Indigenous voices in bridging grassroot efforts to government policy. 

“There is a network of Indigenous organizations that is pan-Amazonian,” she said. “And they’re coming together and they’re working with Conservation International and others as a vehicle for really bridging that gap between local action and the policy sphere.” 

Michael Keating praised Colombia’s Peace Accord for its implementation and acknowledgment of climate change.

“Climate change is not typically thought of as a formal part of peace agreements,” he said. “I have to say Colombia is the standout example of a comprehensive peace agreement. It sets the bar both in terms of the detail of the peace agreement, but also the mechanism that has been put in place to hold parties to account and to ensure its implementation.”

That mechanism is the Peace Accords Matrix, an initiative by Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies that monitors and verifies the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord. According to the University, this marks the first time a collegiate research center has played such a large role in implementing a peace agreement.

Still, Keating was skeptical of current conflict prevention and resolution.

“It isn’t happening. It simply isn’t happening enough,” he said. “It’s as if the rhetoric is increasing, but the reality is not really changing that much.”

Santos related these political conflicts to environmental issues in simple terms. 

“I think we need to approach the problem of the environment as we approach the problem of human rights,” he said. “Nature, also, has rights.”

You can contact Aidan O’Malley at aomalle2@nd.edu

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Alumni lectures on environmental ‘triple threat’

The “environment is a threat multiplier, whether it’s climate change, the loss of biodiversity or pollution,” said Valerie Hickey, the Kroc Institute’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, in her lecture at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on Tuesday afternoon.

Hickey, who received her Master of Arts from Notre Dame in 2000, is the global director for environment, natural resources and the blue economy at the World Bank. In her lecture, Hickey detailed the ways in which climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution — what she calls the “triple threat” — exacerbate conflict and poverty throughout the world.

“We know that from 1946 to 2010, 40% of interstate conflict was made worse by — or paid for by — environmental crime and the loss of biodiversity,” Hickey said. “A quarter of conflicts between 2014 and 2018 were fights over natural resources.”

Hickey warned that as climate change has a more pronounced impact on the world, these conflicts over natural resources will only increase.

“For every one-degree-Celsius increase in global temperature, we’re going to see domestic violence rise by 2.42% and intergroup violence rise by 11.3%,” she said.

Hickey detailed that by 2050, in places such as Mali, GDP could decrease by 6.5% every year as a result of the environmental triple threat. In Nigeria, a 53% loss and in Ghana, a 60% loss in fishing stock is expected as a result of climate change and a lack of biodiversity, she said. Currently, 70 million people earn their living from the fishing industry in West Africa.

While recognizing the severity of the problems caused by climate change, a lack of biodiversity and pollution, Hickey also acknowledged that there is no easy solution to these problems. Perhaps the most immediately pressing obstacle is a lack of capital.

“In 2020, there was $632 billion spent on climate finance,” Hickey stated, “That’s a lot less than the $4 trillion that was needed.”

Hickey said that a big part of this problem stems from the fact that many in Western nations are — perhaps rightfully so — hesitant to commit their tax dollars to help other countries deal with the effects of climate change.

“Eleven percent of Americans and 39 million people live below the poverty line in this country,” Hickey noted. “Are we going to ask the families in Flint, Michigan who can’t get clean water out of their pipes to pay for climate emissions in China? There’s not such an easy answer.”

In addition to the lack of investment into solutions to climate change, Hickey said there is also a dispute over how the money that is spent ought to be allocated.

“If we’re spending 93% percent of climate finance on mitigation, we’re sacrificing current generations who don’t have the coping strategies to deal with climate change today, for the interests of future generations,” she said. “That’s not climate justice either.”

While much of Hickey’s lecture centered on the devastating effects of climate change and the barriers to solutions, she highlighted the fact that these issues are being addressed — even if progress is slow.

“We’re also finally seeing the emergence of leadership that is much stronger than we’ve seen in a while and people standing up for what’s right and for good, even though they have to sacrifice,” Hickey said.

You can contact Liam Kelly at lkelly8@nd.edu

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‘Father of global warming’ advocates for carbon fee and nuclear energy

James Hansen, a renowned climate change scholar and environmental activist, spoke Thursday evening at Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) for the annual Bender Lecture, urging young people to take action to combat climate change. 

Henry Scott, chair of IUSB’s physics and astronomy department, introduced Hansen, the 2022 Bender scholar-in-residence. Scott recounted Hansen’s education and career, particularly his decades-long work leading the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“I suspect everyone here knows that Dr. Hansen is often referred to as the ‘father of global warming.’ I hope it is also known that, that is deserved for raising awareness and that no one is here expecting an apology,” Scott joked.

Scott discussed Hansen’s pivot from studying Venus and helping to send a satellite to photograph the veiled planet.

“As you may know, Venus is incredible and frankly, terrifyingly hot. As Dr. Hansen worked to improve our understanding of why this is so, he shifted his attention to Earth and how its atmosphere may change over time due to human influences,” Scott said. “Over 40 years ago, he was the lead author on a paper which concluded that rising carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere would lead to greater warming that had been previously predicted. And that was just one of his nearly 170 published journal articles over his career.”

Hansen began his lecture by speaking to his larger aims. 

“I’m going to skip what I wrote for notes here because, you know, we need to get young people to understand that they can actually influence the future, and they need to do that. And it’s possible,” Hansen said.

In a wide-ranging lecture discussing the legacies of various presidents as well as his upbringing and career, Hansen largely warned about the challenges of reliance on fossil fuels. 

He also discussed his process and philosophy as a scientist.

“To be successful, you must use all the data. Be very skeptical of your interpretation and honestly reassess from scratch when new data becomes available. And your preference, your ideology, your politics must not affect your assessment. This last point is difficult. For most people, even scientists,” Hansen said.

Going through the risks of ocean warming, rising sea levels, the threat of species being exterminated and belts of the planet becoming unlivable, Hansen said he was cognizant of the value of fossil fuels.

“Now to be positive, plentiful energy has enormous benefits. Fossil fuels are actually marvelous, and they have been a boon to humanity. The Industrial Revolution raised living standards in much of the world. The energy source initially was coal and in the 20th century, oil and gas joined the party, and their condensed energy is comparable to that of coal and it’s more convenient. One gallon of gasoline contains the work equivalent of 400 hours labor by a healthy adult. So fossil fuels raise living standards in half of the world and the other half wants to follow that path, and they have the right to raise their living standards,” Hansen said. “So fossil fuels are wonderful, but they also cause a problem. So what should we do?”

Hansen pointed to the lack of progress on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that the quantitative reduction by countries like the U.S. was simply a function of moving production abroad to countries like India and China. Those emissions now appear on other nation’s tallies, he says.

“The CO2 emissions are not counted in the United States total; they’re counted as part of China and other countries. In the future, emerging economies will be the source of most emissions. So we should work with China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the other economies that are growing rapidly. In fact, in the West, we have an obligation to do that because we use more than our fair share of the carbon budget,” he said.

Ultimately, Hansen’s plan comes down to two large policy reforms. First, he says it is imperative to include the cost to society in the price of fossil fuel, a plan he calls the carbon fee and dividend, previously billed as the carbon tax and dividend.

“The practical way to do that is to collect a fee from the fossil fuel companies at the sources, which are a small number: the domestic mines and the ports of entry. And to make it work, that money should be distributed to the public so that they would have the means to deal with the increased prices of fossil fuels,” he said.

“So if the United States and China would agree on a rising carbon fee the climate problem you would be well on its way to solution,” Hansen added.

Second, Hansen outlined the need for nuclear power arguing for its promotion and development, as well as for related technologies.

“History shows that once a good design for a nuclear power plant is approved, nuclear power provides the fastest way to decarbonize because of the massive amount of energy that’s provided by a single power plant. De facto cooperation between China and the U.S. drove down the cost of solar panels, wind and wind energy. We can do the same for nuclear power,” he said.

Hansen extensively addressed fears about nuclear power, referring to statistics about the minimal harm of nuclear energy, particularly in comparison to current methods of energy production.

“Ten thousand people a day are dying from indoor air pollution. Many of the deaths are similar to those from smoking, very unpleasant to the victim and his family. Ten thousand people in one day is more than killed by nuclear power in 50 years,” he said.

Hansen also discussed his frustrations with the current political system, especially with campaign contributions — which he dubbed “legalized bribery.” He promoted the idea of a third party emerging, and of ranked choice voting. He also spoke to the political power of college students and other youth.

“They have tremendous political power, even high schoolers,” Hansen said.

Hansen closed his remarks with a plea for action from youth, before taking questions from audience members.

“It’s going to be dependent on young people to understand the situation. You cannot simply say, ‘Climate change is important to us, please fix it,’ because then they come up with the fix that the special interests are willing to do. And that’s not going to do,” he said.

Contact Isa Sheikh at isheikh@nd.edu

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ND-GAIN index aims to lower climate risks, promote adaptation to climate change

Increasingly people, governments and corporations must cope with the impact of climate extremes, Professor Jessica McManus Warnell said.

According to McManus Warnell, an affiliated faculty member of the ND Environmental Change Initiative which houses the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN). The organization aims to help private and public sectors prioritize climate adaptation, ultimately lowering risk and enhancing readiness.

ND-GAIN is a consortium of researchers dedicated to examining vulnerability and adaptation data globally and within the United States. The initiative works to enhance the world’s understanding of adaptation through knowledge, products and services that inform public and private actions, and investments in vulnerable communities, McManus Warnell said.

However, sustainability metrics are a separate issue. Notre Dame is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and tracks campus sustainability through its STARS program. 

Danielle Wood, the project director of ND-GAIN, added that ND-GAIN is “an open-source index,” meaning it can “help private and public sectors prioritize investments for climate adaptation to better lower risk and enhance readiness.”

McManus Warnell said she introduces the index to students in her business ethics and sustainability classes as “an example of a science-based tool for communicating climate change data to key stakeholders including communities, governments and businesses.”

Classes in which she has shared the index with students include several offered through the management department at the Mendoza College of Business, like Foundations of Ethical Behavior, Sustainable Communities and Global Business and Climate, Economics and Business Ethics.  

ND-GAIN is “one of the first and still one of the few international climate indices,” Wood said. “It is used by a variety of stakeholders, from federal agencies around the world to NGOs like the Global Center on Adaptation out of the Netherlands and financial entities like Morgan Stanley. It gathers 45 core indicators to measure vulnerability and readiness and allows users to compare countries for risk and readiness.” 

McManus Warnell said she believes ND-GAIN is an important program that addresses a pertinent topic. As the impacts of a changing climate impact communities around the world, “stakeholders and decision makers need robust data upon which to base policy development, investment decisions and other public and private actions.”  

The decline of ND-GAIN leader scores is driven by the index’s measurement of climate readiness, which consists of economic, governance and social components. At the same time, “many of the highest-ranked countries saw an increase in vulnerability to the effects of climate change,” McManus Warnell said.

ND-GAIN measures vulnerability across six components — including food, water, health, human habitat, infrastructure and ecosystem services — for sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity to climate risks.

There are similarities among leaderboard countries, Wood said.

“Many do face moderate exposure to climate change, but they have good capacities to deal with the potential climate risks,” she said. “In general, they are also better prepared for natural disasters and practice good governance, which is essential to adaptation.”

At the same time, Wood said the drop of ND-GAIN scores among the highest-ranked countries should serve as a critical reminder.

“The decline of the top-ranked countries underscores that no country is immune to potentially extreme impacts of climate change,” she said.

In McManus Warnell’s courses, she introduces ND-GAIN as the class examines issues of adaptation to climate change.

“Adaptation, or the process through which humans and human systems adjust to climate and its effects to both minimize harm and identify benefits, depends on good data,” she said. “Government officials, business leaders and other decision-makers can’t determine how to respond if they can’t measure what’s happening and what’s coming.  ND-GAIN’s vulnerability and adaptive capacity data is informing decision-makers around the world, and it is a powerful example for students of how data can inform decision-making. Students will, of course, soon be the decision-makers in these leadership roles.”

On Notre Dame’s campus, McManus Warnell said the University has the Office of Sustainability along with other initiatives such as a standing committee representing students, faculty and administrators in operations and from functional units across the campus who work on Notre Dame’s sustainability strategies.  

“Communities can use ND-GAIN data to determine their specific vulnerabilities to climate impacts, to understand readiness and to inform decisions about their adaptation initiatives,” McManus Warnell said. “Businesses can use ND-GAIN data to identify where and how to invest resources, determine new opportunities and respond to specific needs of communities around the world.”

Contact Maxwell Feldmann at mfeldma3@nd.edu

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Climate change as a feminist issue

Climate change has impacted every person on this planet. From an increase in wildfires and floods to a lack of access to other natural resources, this human-made catastrophe has affected everyone. However, some are more disproportionately impacted than others because of the marginalization and oppression of certain communities due to social hierarchies and standards. Specifically, women have been the most affected by climate change, for women make up a majority of the world’s poor population and are therefore more dependent on natural resources. For reference, 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty are women and 40% of the world’s poorest households are headed by women. Additionally, a lack of education and access to leadership positions make it difficult for women to offer ideas in the decision-making process around climate change. Therefore, feminism offers a way to look at how climate change disproportionately impacts women — specifically women of color —and how we can empower women to become agents of change. 

In a patriarchal society — a social system in which men hold the power — gender roles play a huge part in how our world functions. Gender roles — a role determined by cultural norms that apply to a specific gender — create inequalities as individuals are expected to act a certain way to be accepted by society. On a global scale, women often provide the role of caretaker for families and communities. In some developing countries, women cannot find the time to maintain an education, if they have access to it, due to the expectations of gender roles, especially during climate catastrophes. Also, women who are racial minorities are the most impacted by climate injustice, for marginalized communities face social stigmas and inequalities that limit access to equal rights. The addition of climate change only delays the fight for equality and puts marginalized groups in a more vulnerable situation. This is why intersectionality is critical to understanding systems of oppression — a term coined by feminist and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw that analyzes how different aspects of identity intertwine and intersect to determine an individual’s experience in the world. By using this tool, we can draw attention to the root of the problem: the variety of social inequalities in society that directly impact people’s access to fundamental human rights. 

While climate change is an issue created by humans, gender equality is dramatically suffering from this worldwide environmental issue. Especially in developing countries, which also tend to be minimal contributors to the issue of climate change, environmental crises impact these communities the most. In places where access to natural resources is already minimal, climate disasters have a cataclysmic impact.

A specific, current example of how the climate crisis disproportionately impacts women is shown through the catastrophic flooding taking place in Pakistan. On Aug. 27, the banks of the Kabul River burst due to the monsoons in Pakistan, causing nearby cities to be overwhelmingly affected by flooding. In Nowshera, displaced families and individuals reside on the sides of roads in tents and shelters in colleges, universities and student hostels. In her article, Diaa Hadid details how many women were abandoned by their husbands during this climate crisis and are attempting to take care of and provide for their families. In this conservative area in Pakistan, it is rare to see women in public because it is frowned upon by the culture. This social norm has made it increasingly difficult for women to have their needs met after being displaced from their homes. Many mothers are struggling to receive food for themselves and their children because it is a common occurrence for men to take food from women. Additionally, minimal access to the bathroom has put mothers and families in uncomfortable situations where they are unable to use the restroom for extended amounts of time. Women are also suffering from a major lack of period products. In a conservative area where many women already lack fundamental human rights, climate catastrophes like this put women in even more vulnerable situations where their basic needs are unable to be met. Especially in an area with very low greenhouse gas emissions, many women are unaware of the issue of climate change. Now more than ever, we need a feminist solution that empowers women’s education and equal access in order to promote gender equality while simultaneously combating climate change. 

By looking at climate change through an intersectional lens, we can dissect why this issue disproportionately impacts marginalized communities in order to create specific solutions. A majority of women lack agency in decision-making around the issues that impact them the most, one of the most prevalent being climate change. Women experience unique vulnerabilities from climate change and therefore can offer specific solutions to the issues that impact them the most. It is essential that more women’s voices are integrated into the decision-making process around solutions to combat climate change. Especially since women leaders put more of an emphasis on making change rather than being in charge, this commitment to justice and equality can make a huge difference in combating both climate change and gender injustice. Additionally, a strong emphasis on the community will allow for momentum to build in creating specific solutions for a multiplicity of issues. Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, a writer and climate activist, describes a specific approach to combating climate change. “Core approaches to climate leadership: things like compassion, connection, creativity, collaboration, care, a commitment to justice, all of that is open to people of any gender.” Promoting the inclusion of women in leadership positions will allow for more collaboration and more targeted solutions that combat climate change while addressing the drastic impact the environment has had on marginalized communities. As Ireland’s first female president said, “Climate change is a man-made problem — with a feminist solution!”

It is essential that we begin to integrate intersectionality into decision-making in order to accurately analyze how and why certain communities are being impacted more than others on a global scale. The inclusion of marginalized voices into the decision-making process around climate change is essential in creating meaningful, impactful and multidimensional solutions that evoke change in specific areas.

Grace Sullivan is a freshman at Notre Dame studying Global Affairs with a minor in Gender Studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T. (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she analyzes global social justice issues with an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting, and being a plant mom. She can be reached at gsulli22@nd.edu.