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Earth Week speaker addresses climate change

Eileen Claussen, leader in the movement to control climate change and executive-in-residence for the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, shared the past, present and future of the global environment and what people can do to prevent further harm to the planet. 

By Sarah Collins ’18

Eileen Claussen, founding president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and executive-in-residence for the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, discussed the implications of climate change and ways to deal with it in a lecture she presented Tuesday in McKinnon Hall.

Claussen's lecture kicked off Earth Week and was part of series of activites highlighting sustainabiligy at Elon. 

She spoke to an audience of students, faculty and community members, explaining the complicated history of global climate change legislation, current efforts to reduce rising temperatures worldwide and how society can prevent further damage from climate change.

“The Earth is warming,” she said. “The impacts will be significant and perhaps catastrophic, and they will be felt everywhere, including the U.S.”

She began her talk with a T.S. Elliot quote: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” She applied this message to the many failed attempts by global alliances to enact meaningful climate change legislation, beginning with the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change and leading up to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference.

Repeatedly, she stressed the failure globally to set legally binding limits on the amount of greenhouse gases countries are allowed to emit. While more than 180 countries made voluntary pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Paris last November, Claussen said, the world is nowhere close to achieving the target temperature that will prevent some of the most harmful effects of climate change: a mere two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperature levels.

“The two-degree goal is not on the horizon,” she said.

Claussen also praised the efforts of some organizations to combat climate change. She emphasized that it was citizen activism that prevented the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a popular topic of discourse during Obama’s 2012 campaign. The proposed pipeline would have brought thousands of gallons of oil into the U.S. each year and, as a result, would have contributed to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Claussen also recognized the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. The movement, which advocates for the elimination of coal-powered plants in the United States, has been successful in closing hundreds of facilities reliant on coal for operation.

She emphasized the need for technology development in order to effectively combat climate change. She said the advanced energy industry, worth $1.5 trillion and twice the size of the airline industry, will be essential in addressing global temperature changes in the coming decades.

Claussen charged the group to take three actions to assist the movement against climate change. Push for laws that favor climate regulation, she said, and vote for candidates who are passionate about effecting change in current climate legislation. For those with the ability to invest, pay close attention to what potential investments are doing to address climate change. While some companies make large contributions to the fight against global climate change, others are not helping—or even hurting—the environment. She also suggested making sustainable product and lifestyle choices.

“Efforts have to come from the bottom up and the top down,” she said.

It’s up to society to start making progress toward climate change, Claussen said.

“Do we want to be the generation that provided future generations with a world less hospitable than the one we inherited?” she asked.


Roselee Papandrea Taylor,
4/21/2016 11:50 AM