This year could be pivotal in the histories of both modern global society and Boston College. It might prove as the beginning of when the majority of people around the world and in the BC community began to make sustainability a priority.
In Paris, leaders representing most of the countries in the world are meeting at the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The goal of the conference is to make an effective international agreement that would require countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 2℃ (3.6℉) since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. According to climate scientists, average temperatures have already risen 1℃, and despite increasing the use of renewable energy, humans are still emitting billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Global temperature rise over preindustrial levels is expected to exceed a catastrophic 5℃ (9℉) by 2100 unless further action is taken.
With just one degree of warming, society is already experiencing prolonged droughts, deadly wildfire seasons, more intense and frequent storms and floods, rising sea levels, extended ranges of infectious diseases, and an alarming loss of biodiversity. Burning fossil fuels has additionally contributed to increased rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers.
This past June, the Vatican released an encyclical entitled Laudato Si. This Encyclical is dedicated to caring for the Earth and conserving the natural environment. In order to do so, Laudato Si proposes the reduction of unnecessary consumption, ending the developed world’s “throw away culture” (that contribute to an unsustainable use of natural resources and produce an overburdening amount of waste), preserving ecosystems, and transitioning to clean renewable energy sources.
The Encyclical notes that the poor and marginalized, who are least responsible for anthropogenic climate change, will most likely be the ones it most adversely affects. The primary reason for this is that most industrialized and developing countries lack the financial resources, technology, and infrastructure to adequately adapt to rapid global warming. This could lead to political instability and violent conflicts. Additionally, rising sea levels and water shortages will likely displace millions of people, contributing to an environmental refugee crisis.
Pope Francis has called on developed countries, such as the United States, to take the initiative in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. This will require efforts from governments, businesses, institutions, and individuals.
Over four days this past September, BC hosted the Our Common Home Conference dedicated to the discussion of Laudato Si and climate change. This event featured speakers such as John Holdren (President Obama’s Science Adviser), Cardinal Peter Turkson (who wrote portions of Laudato Si), and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. They respectively discussed the overwhelming scientific evidence and potential consequences of human induced climate change, the need to protect the natural environment on which we all depend for survival, and strengthening political will for sustainable practices and climate change mitigation. Discussing issues is vital, because it leads to the next and most important step: taking action.
While taking the course Global Implications of Climate Change this semester, I have noticed and learned about certain sustainable practices and actions that people at Boston College could improve upon or implement. These initiatives and decisions include purchasing more renewable energy from utilities, installing solar panels (which could be leased with little upfront cost) and green roofs (that would reduce flooding on lower campus and improve insulation in buildings), renovating or replacing energy inefficient buildings, installing energy efficient electric hand dryers and motion sensing lighting in restrooms, only running the sprinklers when necessary, dimming lights in dorm hallways during the early morning hours, keeping thermostats at 68℉ in the winter, purchasing more organic and locally sourced produce for dining, establishing a campus wide post-consumer composting program, primarily using reusable utensils, plates, and bowls in dining halls, eating less red meat, having a sustainability training session during freshman orientation, incorporating more environmental courses into the core curriculum, and being more conscientious about personal habits pertaining to recycling, water use, and energy consumption. Laudato Si is a call to action and the Our Common Home Conference could be part of the foundation of this campus’ sustainable future.
Although climate change and environmental damage will initially have the greatest impact the poor and vulnerable, industrialized nations are not immune to their detrimental ramifications. The longer we wait to act, the more difficult and costly it will be to resolve and live with the consequences.
As a Jesuit institution with the ethos men and women for others, how can BC be respected if we do not do everything in our power to practice what we preach?
We can make choices and implement strategies on campus that have environmental, health, social, and economic benefits.