Climate Change

Ben Wang, Staff Writer

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In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, governments all over the world must work to drastically cut emissions within the next 12 years. The report stated that by 2030, humans will be incapable of reducing and reversing the effects of climate change. According to The Guardian, “new taxes on fossil fuels, investment in clean technology, and much stronger government policies to bring down emissions are likely to be necessary.”

Next month, leaders from around the world are meeting in Poland to discuss the findings of recent reports and decide how to implement goals from the Paris meeting in 2015. Despite this, major countries, including the US, refuse to commit to environmental policies.

In the past two months, the United Nations’ (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the National Climate Assessment, and the annual UN Emissions Gap Report have all been published, prompting both action and discussion among the school community.

Natalie Sweet (10) and Ari Moscona-Skolnik (12) were not surprised by the news. Compared to reports in previous years, the October UN Report was not far off from previous predictions, Moscona-Skolnik said.

“It shows that we need to make a transition to sustainable energy somewhat quicker to avoid a fatal turning point,” Moscona-Skolnik said.

However, the Trump administration refuses to address the issue, reversing important agreements like the Paris Accord, Sweet said.

Science teacher Oleg Zvezdin agreed that the government is not only refusing to address climate change, but also “doing things that are only accelerating the issue and increasing the rate of climate change,” he said.

Last year, President Trump lessened regulations on oil drilling and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement between 183 of the UN member states to improve the current global warming crisis.

But despite the fact that the majority of countries worldwide have pledged to reduce emissions through the Paris Accord, the ICPP report stated that not only are countries not reaching the goals they had set forth, but these goals are too low to begin with.

For an AP Environmental Science presentation, Julia Hornstein (12) studied the recent UN report. She wanted to learn more about what the government and individuals can do to reduce climate change. “I think about it every day, and I’m very disheartened by the report,” she said.

Although she believes the community can make a difference, Hornstein believes that the people who want to deny the issue of climate change do so largely to pursue economic growth, especially in the oil industry, she said.

Moscona-Skolnik agreed that many high-ranking officials value their own interests more than the consequences of climate change, he said.

As a country, we cannot establish a democratic united front against climate change until trust is established between the two political parties, Lucas Raskin (10) said.

“The polarizing nature of two-party politics” causes people to hold out on believing in climate change, Raskin said. This occurs to such a large extent that “different factions emerge with different values instead of valuing the general conservation of our country,” causing proponents of either party to “accept or deny data as they see fit,” he said.

“We are being told one thing by the leadership and another by the world,” said Melchior Lee (12). “It comes down to ignorance and awareness.”

Every piece of data shows a clear shift in the climate, but the warming is slow enough on a human scale that it’s almost unnoticeable, Zvezdin said. “It’s easy to say that nothing is going on,” he said.

However, with extreme weather conditions like the many hurricanes to hit the U.S. this year alone, people are starting to pay attention to this issue, Moscona-Skolnik said. “People hopefully are getting more serious,” he said.

Apart from hurricanes, the country has recently suffered through wildfires, droughts, floods and other natural disasters as a result of changing global temperatures, and increasing temperatures will only lead to more frequent, and more intense, disasters.

On October 8th, the IPCC, the UN body in charge of problems regarding climate change, released the results from its 48th session. The IPCC concluded that the earth only has 12 years before reaching 1.5º above pre-industrial temperatures.

Any increase in temperature from this limit could lead to catastrophic consequences. At 2º above pre-industrial temperatures, the global sea level would be 0.1m higher than at 1.5º. According to the report, this seemingly minuscule difference could displace 10.4 million more people.

Although this was not the first report of its kind, Gavin Delanty (12) feels very scared by it, he said. For a year-long Voices of Protest paper last year, Delanty investigated climate change and America’s role in it.

“It feels like we’re heading towards doom, but I’d say there’s hope to get back on track,” Delanty said. He believes that a major problem is the way the United States has handled this issue.

“The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world, so pulling out of the Paris Agreement has an impact on other countries and what they should do,” Delanty said.

History teacher Dr. Ellen Bales believes that “governments and corporations will have to get on board to solve the scale of the problem,” she said.

Within the community, students at school are trying to do their part as well. On October 29th and November 1st, Green HM held phone banking sessions, where they urged Florida’s citizens to take into account the problem of climate change when voting during the midterms. “The club spoke to more than 600 Floridians,” Moscona-Skolnik said.

“We know we’re not going to make a huge dent in the global climate change, but we want to get people thinking about climate change in their daily lives,” Margot Rosenblatt (12), a Co-President of Green HM along with Moscona-Skolnik, said.

As a Community Council (CC) initiative, Sweet initiated “Take Back the Tap,” a project to limit the number of plastic water bottles used at the school and to raise awareness in the community, she said. “We use over two thousand bottles per year of plastic bottles,” Sweet said.

“I went to an environmental conference and learned about the initiative. It had been implemented at many colleges, but Horace Mann is the first to open a high school chapter of Take Back the Tap,” Sweet said.

Sweet has been in contact with Food and Water Watch, a non-governmental organization that works to create a healthy future for our families and for generations to come, according to their website.

To generate further interest and address the issue, Zvezdin is planning a trip during Spring Break to go to Churchill, Manitoba, a town in Canada.

This trip is in conjunction with Earthwatch, an institute dedicated “to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment,” according to its website.

Zvezdin wants the students to keep having conversations about the issue and what we can do to change it. “We keep saying that you’re the future, and at some point, you guys are going to be voting,” Zvezdin said. Zvezdin recommends that members of the community think about climate change when voting and in their political lives.

Due to his research, Delanty has become more aware of these issues, he said. “I try to talk about it more often and inform people. A lot of my friends just don’t care about it. They think it will happen even without human interaction,” Delanty said.

To try to raise awareness, the administration has enacted multiple initiatives, and Dr. Kelly said that each year the school is trying to make numerous improvements.

Last year, in an attempt to lower plastic bottle usage, Dorr teacher and Co-Chair of the Sustainability Committee Nick DePreter and retired photography teacher Karen Johnson proposed a water bottle embargo in the cafeteria.

Dr. Kelly believes “the embargo was quite successful in terms of the attention it brought to bottled water vs. water from one of the school’s ‘bottle fillers’ and the use of a reusable container,” he said.

For many students and faculty, the embargo represented an inconvenience. “It was annoying because I didn’t have a water bottle. But that being said, now that I do, I hardly ever get a plastic one,” John Mauro (10) said.

“I don’t fault those students and/or employees who found the Embargo an inconvenience. That said, I do think it makes sense for HM to continue to do things that make people think about the environment and the reality of a growing number of limited resources,” Kelly said.

Some students believe that the embargo didn’t change anything. “Students still use plastic water bottles. If we really did want to change and be more green, we should have an embargo every single day. But then the students would be upset,” Mandy Liu (10) said.

“Eventually, the drinks in the cafeteria will be dispensed through fountain type devices and not sold in individual bottles,” Kelly said.

“Another student initiative is to have Take Back the Tap occur three days in a week,” Kelly said. Once the most convenient days are decided, FLIK will have water canteens stationed in the cafeteria, he said.

Even the school’s food truck, which seemingly would add to the school’s emissions, is beneficial. “We’ve used less than a half a tank of gas since we asked FLIK to lease us the truck six to seven months ago,” Kelly said.

“The food truck is a more efficient way for us to move a small kitchen around the campus, one that takes advantage of our own staffing and food/beverage resources for special events,” Kelly said. The school used to rent the equipment, but the truck provides a more convenient and cost-effective alternative, he said.

In addition to the embargo and Take Back the Tap, the school installed solar panels, replaced plastic straws with paper ones, switched to gas rather than oil in Prettyman gym and the other new structures, and shifted most lights to LED, resulting in a 90% energy reduction, DePreter said.

Kelly also listed a handful of recent school initiatives, including donating old furniture to other schools, shifting the admissions process online, regrading Alumni Field to better control water runoff, using recycled asphalt as part of the new tennis court project, installing sustainable landscape around the new buildings, removing invasive vegetation around the Bronx campus and at Dorr, and installing a green playground at the Nursery Division in order to introduce students to “outdoor” play in a natural environment at an early age.

Trustee Bonnie Jonas P’19, 20, explained that Dr. Kelly and the administration take climate change and making a more positive environmental impact very seriously. Jonas had been informed that some of the initiatives taken by the school were the “installation of water-filling stations, electronic dryers in the bathrooms, and efforts to be environmentally conscious in the new building,” she said.

“We’re as mindful about sustainability on our main campus as we are at Dorr,” Kelly said. “The administration is always looking for responsible ways to minimize the school’s carbon foot print and/or maximize the limited resources available to operate the school.”

Some of the school’s alumni are also actively advocating for the issue.  Dr. Benjamin Strauss ‘90, for instance, is the President and CEO of Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting facts about the changing climate and its impact on the public.

Strauss has testified before the U.S. Senate, presented to state and local elected officials, and has been cited by the Secretary-General of the UN.

Even before he graduated from the school, he was invested in the topic as one of the founders of the club that came before GreenHM, Head of the Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said.

Along with Strauss, Nadine Block ’89 has been working to limit climate change, according to the 2010 Horace Mann magazine. Block is the Senior Director of Government Outreach at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a Washington, DC-based non-profit dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management.

Block traces her interest in environmental issues to her experiences at the John Dorr Nature Laboratory as early as her first visit to Dorr in fourth grade, she said.

Students such as Annabelle Chan (10) are making the effort to educate themselves about climate change because “it affects our futures and lives,” she said. She believes that small actions “such as using paper straws and recycling, could impact the world we live in,” Chan said. She always tries to use eco-friendly alternative materials and recycle to do her part in reducing climate change, she said.

Bales first became interested in climate change from researching the history of science for her Ph.D. and “doing a dissertation that had to do with environmental questions,” she said. From there, she “got into environmental history,” which led her to think about history through the lens of the environment.

When Bales began to teach high school, she realized that “climate change is one of the most serious problems we have to face,” she said. One of the major ways Bales contributes to positively impacting the environment is through her teaching. Next year, Bales will begin teaching a global environmental history elective that will “partially deal with climate change,” she said.

Bales suggests that in order to impact climate change as a school, we should have open conversations, ensure students are aware of what’s at stake, and encourage them to think about longer-term commitments, she said. As a student body, we should “have a bigger conversation about what our lives will look like if we don’t try to change this,” Bales said.

“We endeavor to appreciate and respect each other and our school and, as such, we should be respectful of the resources that allow our school to thrive,” Kelly said.