Students alarmed after landmark report says world could see devastating effects of climate change by 2040


Colin Boyle / Daily Senior Staffer

A recent UN report predicts a climate crisis by 2040 if global temperatures continue to rise.

Suzy Vazquez, Reporter

A report earlier this month by the United Nations that predicts a major climate crisis as early as 2040 if the atmosphere’s temperature increases by 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels, has caused concern among Northwestern students.

Ninety-one scientists from 40 different countries wrote and edited the report, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the United Nations. If governments don’t take the efforts necessary to improve climate change, the scientists say a crisis is likely by 2040. The consequences include rising ocean levels, food shortages, wildfires and increased poverty.

McCormick freshman Allison Spring said she found the numbers shocking but the report itself unsurprising. Spring lives an hour north of NU in Mount Pleasant, Wis., where Foxconn, a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company, is building a site near her home that many say has the potential to create many environmental problems for the community.

“It’s easy to say (climate change) doesn’t affect us because we’re so focused on the economic benefits,” Spring said. “When it’s in your own local community, and you can see the economic benefits, but you can also see the pollution that it’s causing and the problems that it’s going to create in the long run. That’s when it becomes real.”

Weinberg senior Aliana Ruxin said the report is another example of science and policy not matching up. Though it reiterates the risks associated with climate change, there’s still seems to be little concern from policy makers or the current administration, Ruxin said.

In response to the news, many have pointed out that some regions are already facing the consequences of climate change, although media coverage and scientific studies don’t fully reflect that reality.

“There has to be significant scientific proof to motivate any kind of policy change, and the places that are going to have the most severe and immediate impact aren’t even studied by most scientific researchers,” Ruxin said.

The report says the world can turn the situation around, but politically, it isn’t likely. If a crisis occurs, the report estimates damages at around $54 trillion. Weinberg senior Yasmine Diara said she found the report unsurprising. She added that she feels desensitized to a lot of issues in the world today.

Making individual changes like using reusable straws and recycling regularly have the potential to have a large-scale effect, Diara added. However, she emphasized that these practices fail to take into account marginalized communities that don’t necessarily have the privilege to do all of these things.

“I just don’t think it’s fair to hold marginalized communities accountable for something that’s not a problem they created or necessarily their responsibility to fix,” Diara said. “They’re going to feel the repercussions the hardest.”

For scientists in the field, the report’s dire conclusion was predictable, since data was aggregated from studies already published.

“Scientists have been warning of the consequences of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions for decades,” said earth and planetary sciences Prof. Daniel Horton. “The hopeful piece of this report is the idea that solutions are possible – all they require is the courage of individuals, of businesses, and of our political leaders to enact change.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @suzy_vazquez