Local Action, International Inaction – Earth Month at a Pivotal Environmental Moment  – The Omaha News
Omaha News

Local Action, International Inaction – Earth Month at a Pivotal Environmental Moment  – The Omaha News

By: Jamie Harvey, Reporter

OMAHA, Neb. – An upbeat conversation sparked around a group of students in the Milo Bail Student Center this past Wednesday as they tied together strips of old t-shirts to make reusable tote bags. Keeping t-shirts out of landfills and plastic bags in their checkout lines, the group was not shy about their mission. The little booth pulled in a wide range of passers-by, some stopping to join in the crafting and others just curious about the cause. This DIY experience was one of many campus-wide events UNO student group SustainUNO has planned for this Earth Month. 

But even though the mood in the student center was jovial, concerned tones dominate environmental discussion worldwide. 

Earth month this April comes on the heels of a stark Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in March. The Synthesis Report, which brings together information and expertise from three working groups and three special reports, highlights humanity’s rapidly shrinking window of opportunity to keep climate change below the 1.5°C goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement.  

UNO Sustainability Director Elizabeth Chalecki, Ph.D., said if global temperature change exceeds 1.5°C and reaches 2°C or hotter, “the negative outcomes may be beyond what we can control or even adapt to.” 

The IPCC Synthesis Report has been called a “final warning” because, if current policies continue, the planet is projected to reach 1.5°C before the IPCC releases its next round of reports in six to seven years. If nations continue with their current policies and commitments, the organization projects global temperatures will rise 2.2°C–3.5°C by the end of the century. 

A group of SustainUNO members discuss carbon divestment in the Barbara Wise Community Engagement Center in Omaha, NE., March. 23, 2023 (Photo/Jamie Harvey)

Despite the ticking clock, Chalecki says action on the international level is not moving quickly enough to prevent catastrophic warming. The international climate policy researcher said the reason attempts to implement serious climate policy at the international level consistently stalls is because every part of the global economic system–from production through delivery–is rooted in fossil fuels. Most countries avoid making emission cuts to stay competitive and avoid economic pain. 

“No country wants to go first,” Chalecki said. “Every country wants to let the other countries do the work while they continue to use fossil fuels and then when the path is smooth, they’ll take that path as well.” 

Just because action at the international level tends to die in deadlock, that does not mean nothing is being done. Every Friday at 1 p.m., a group of UNO students meets at the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center to bring sustainability to the campus community. Just this year, the group partnered with Heartland Bike Share to sponsor 200 free annual bike share passes. It is a move the group said makes “alternative forms of transportation more available to students.”  

Additionally, the group is lobbying the administration and student government for carbon divestment and more sustainable food policies. To broaden their impact, Sustain UNO is also working to get sustainability officers on the boards of student organizations. 

The MidAmerican Energy – Walter Scott, Jr. Energy Center from across the Missouri River taken from Mandan Park in Omaha, NE., March 27, 2023 (Photo/Jamie Harvey)

This Earth Month SustainUNO are working to promote sustainability, hosting 15 events across campus and the metro, including DIY workshops, clothing swaps, bike rides and a sustainable menstrual product giveaway. 

Although these campus-wide events and initiatives may seem inconsequential next to the looming leviathan of climate change, they promote a sustainable mentality to a generation who may need that mindset. 

Humanity may have to adapt to live within the limits of Earth’s natural resources–a task those versed in sustainability may be better equipped to tackle. “Resources on our earth are very limited,” SustainUNO member Sofia Safi said. “We need to not be wasteful.” 

Even though the specter of 1.5°C hangs over the minds of climate activists and young people alike, exceeding that limit will not instantly end the world.  

The IPCC report stresses that climate change is incremental and that every degree bf climate change averted will reduce the severity of climate risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supplies and other human and natural systems.   

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