Courage in the face of climate change

Andrea Godshalk
Andrea Godshalk in her studio in Lewis Center. (Image: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Andrea Godshalk is a doctoral candidate in Sustainable Urbanism at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. She participated in the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference (“COP23”) held at U.N. Campus in Bonn, Germany, as a Washington University delegate. She writes this perspective based on a recent climate summit hosted locally at Saint Louis University.

Thirty years ago this month, the term “global warming” became part of our popular conversation. It was introduced by a NASA scientist in testimony to Congress on June 23, 1988.

The Associated Press reports that during this 30-year period, the world’s annual temperature has warmed nearly 1 degree. The temperature in the United States has gone up even more — nearly 1.6 degrees.

I recently participated as a Washington University representative in the Saint Louis Climate Summit, hosted by Saint Louis University in April 2018. The event brought together a rich group of experts and leaders over three days for talks about climate change action.

It takes courage to engage in the conversation about climate change and climate change action. I believe that it is the most pressing and important conversation facing humanity right now.

Over the past couple of years, I have learned a lot about climate change, and it is arduous. That’s why I think it is important to talk about courage. Because that’s what it requires to honestly look at what is happening right now.

It means bearing witness to what is happening now and what is predicted to happen in our lifetimes.

The scale of action we need to engage in is immense.

At the Climate Summit, Nancy Tuchman, Founding Director of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago, spoke about the role of higher education in climate change action. She said, at a minimum, no universities should be graduating climate deniers. Tuchman proposes at least one course should be required for all students. And that for students who want to be a part of this movement, we need to break down the silos between disciplines among the sciences, social sciences, business, law and the arts. We need to connect students to sustainability efforts on campus, she said, and let students be involved in improving campus operations and greening of grounds and buildings.

I study design and sustainable urbanism. In order to ensure a viable future for ourselves and our children, we need to fundamentally restructure our energy and infrastructure systems.

But it is not an issue of technology or know-how. We have the technology and we know what to do. It is an issue of leadership and coordination. The immense scale of this project demands all of us begin to recognize ourselves as leaders, and to cultivate the courage to engage climate change action with our particular skills and talents.

Climate change will bring humanity to our knees. And this is terrifying. But over the course of learning about climate change and learning how to speak with people about it, I have come to see it as an opportunity for us to grapple with what it means to be human.

Because this project of restructuring our infrastructure and energy systems demands that we also re-imagine our social systems, our values.

What kind of world do we want to live in? How do we want to live with each other?

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