Contributor: Vivian Liao

Environmental Engineering Students Showcase Climate Change Projects

Intro by Vivian Liao
Projects by Lena G, '19, and Hanne I., '19

As climate change drives the occurrence of more and more extreme weather events, we here in the United States are starting to become more aware of the new normal: devastating wildfire seasons in California, stronger hurricanes off the southern and East Coasts, and bitter Midwestern winters courtesy of the polar vortex. These disasters have led to deaths and the evacuation of many into neighboring states; however, these migration events have tended to be temporary, with evacuees ultimately returning to their homes to rebuild their lives.

 

In contrast to what is happening here in America, climate-caused migration is already forcing millions worldwide to leave their home countries permanently. According to a report by the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan research organization based in Santa Monica, between 2008 and 2015 an average of 26.4 million “climate migrants” per year globally were displaced by climate-related events; this trend is likely to worsen with intensifying climate change impacts.

 

As concerned global citizens from a country responsible for emitting the second-most greenhouse gas emissions in the world, we need to be aware of the impacts that will be experienced by those in other countries that are at least partially caused by our consumption patterns. In particular, climate change will disproportionately impact the poor living in developing, tropical nations. It should also be noted that these same nations have historically contributed the least greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Below, seniors Hanne Irish-Hurlow, former AP Environmental Science student, and Lena Golia, current Environmental Engineering student, provide detailed accounts of how climate change has already dramatically changed people’s lives in the Kiribati Islands and the Republic of South Sudan, including driving them to seek asylum in foreign lands. We hope to demonstrate to the Westridge community that climate change is not just likely to be an environmental calamity; it is also a global justice issue disproportionately affecting those who are already poor and the least responsible for rising temperatures.

Social Justice of Climate Change

By Hanne I., '19

South Sudan is suffering in two major ways: partially from a genocide, mislabeled as a civil war for political reasons, and climate change, with increased consequences in the region due to climate change directly feeding the violence. Unfairly enough, South Sudan is almost entirely excluded of responsibility for climate change. The country emits only 4% of the world’s greenhouse gasses and 95% of the population relies on non-industrialized industries, limiting environmental impacts. Despite this, the environment in South Sudan will be harmed 2.5 times more than the rest of the global average and an Oxford study suggests that with an increase in 0.5O C, the frequency of violent conflict increases by 32%.  

The Climate Change Vulnerability Index of 2017 ranks South Sudan as one out of the five worst performing countries globally. Although South Sudan only gained their independence in 2011, the region has experienced a decrease in rainfalls, increase in heat spells, flooding, and drought disasters since the 1900s, and increased temperatures since the 1970s. The changes in environment have greatly affected the needs of a primarily agrarian country. A report by the United Nation indicates that 95% of South Sudan’s population, around 11 million people, rely on climate sensitive livelihoods, such as agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Climate change has harmed all industries through changed temperatures, growing seasons, and available resources. It has been proven to be linked to decreased crop yields, and South Sudan has recently experienced low productivity and production of crops. Seasonal streams and springs have dried, limiting availability of water, and pastoral land is further being restricted by a loss in habitable land.

While agriculture becomes a less viable and profitable option, many have turned to selling wood and charcoal. A recent report indicates tree coverage has dropped from 35% to 11% across the entire country. The reduction in trees is directly contributing to the effects of climate change. Carbon makes up about 50% of the mass of wood, and when it is cut down or burned, this carbon is released into the air as carbon dioxide. The tree-cutting business is particularly lucrative in South Sudan because they lack any central power grid to supply electricity to the country, so wood and charcoal supply an estimated 11 million Sudanese with heat and means for cooking.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been under attack since its beginning. The civil war (or genocide) began under the presidency of President Salva Kiir, of Dinka descent, and Vice President Riek Machar, of Nuer descent. The administration was strategic in attempting to settle historically rooted tensions between ethnic tribes; however, a suspected betrayal within the government resulted in a rebellion that sparked a civil war that is yet to end. Millions of Sudanese civilians have been displaced or forced to emigrate, and nearly 400,000 people have been killed. Political influences have fueled the Dinka and Nuer extremist militias, but exponentially rising temperatures due to climate change threatens nearly the entire population livelihoods and has caused a strain on available resources.

A scarcity of resources has forced increased competition between neighboring tribes, consequently encouraging more violence. An example of competition leading to increased violence is between nomadic herders and settled farmers who end up fighting over wells, poor harvests, and a lack of pastureland. The men who are left unoccupied and without a livelihood are drawn to militias, feeding the war. They are also encouraged by political influences to blame the opposing ethnic group for their lack of resources, furthering hatred and divide.

Climate change not only affects our environment, but directly relates to human interests, health, and safety.

The Kiribati Islands: Our Generation's Atlantis?

By Lena G, '19

Climate change is real and people are feeling the effects right now. So many of the statistics relayed to us focus on future devastation because that is when it will start deeply affecting our current nation, but we need to be aware of what is happening now. The Republic of Kiribati is an island country made up of 33 islands spread out along the Central Pacific Ocean. This island exemplifies how truly devastating and immediate climate issues are in today's world and on today's people. The Kiribati islands are extremely close to sea level, in fact all islands except one rise no higher than 26 feet above sea level (for reference LA is 285 feet above sea level). This close proximity to the sea makes the islands extremely vulnerable to the rising sea level caused by climate change, in fact two uninhabited islets are completely covered by water. This is devastating to the native people because they are watching their home and their country get destroyed as a result of other people's actions.

As a nation, the Republic of Kiribati has one of the lowest carbon footprints, but even they have put limitations on what they emit. In order to do this they have put fishing regulations in place to minimize their minal emission rate. This is an extremely powerful and selfless course of action as fishing is the main source of income for the Republic of Kiribati, one of the world's poorest countries. This is something many other countries with much higher emission and income rates are not as willing to do. The inhabitants of the Republic of Kiribati are being punished for something they can not control, and the worst part of it is that there is no place to run. 

Climate change is not recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency as a legitimate reason to seek asylum. According to their website, "Many of those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change may not meet the refugee definition. Nevertheless, they are in need of protection." Due to the geography of these islands, their susceptibility to rising tides has devastated the country. As ocean levels rise, high tides are able to wash over the width of many islands. This causes mass destruction to homes, crops, and the daily lives of the people. As people's home land is taken away from them, their lives destroyed, and the difficulty of finding a place which will allow them to immigrate rises, combined with a sense of nationalism and pride in their heritage, the Republic of kiribati faces the possibility of completely submerging and taking its people with it.