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September 9, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

The Importance of Holistic Approaches to Climate Change

Aaron Silberman, Sara Carioscia

The challenge of climate change is by definition the synthesis of a multiplicity of subject areas. Shifting seas and an altered atmosphere affect ecosystems and economic systems, large countries and small alike. This interdisciplinary nature makes classifications that focus on single issues nearly impossible to effectively utilize. When approaching such a multi-modal and multifactorial challenge, it is important to view all dimensions of the problem as critical and to develop solutions that reflect all dimensions—environmental, social, economic, and others.

A salient and educational example of the all-encompassing nature of climate change is the issue of climate displacement. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council, approximately 19.3 million people were forced out of their homes due to natural disasters in 2014. The number of global climate refugees is likely to rise significantly as sea levels steadily creep upward due to factors including ice melt and systemic environmental degradation, among others.

The global community is obliged to prepare holistic and dynamic solutions in the present in order to avoid continued mass disaster and tragedy. These solutions would address all relevant dimensions that could be touched on by climate displacement and migration. For instance, such solutions would need to incorporate consideration for the political, such as how to muster the political support necessary for proactive, longitudinal planning rather than reactive approaches; the environmental, such as how to best preserve and maintain the environment of a given country using that country’s own resources; the legal, such as how to legally protect those groups that are currently not covered by international law, and the ethical, such as how to address potential reparations to countries such as  the Republic of Kiribati, which has emitted far fewer greenhouse gases than large industrialized countries. Proposed solutions that are myopic in nature set themselves for failure by neglecting to countenance and address the multidimensional impacts that climate change and environmental degradation will bear out in the coming decades on numerous data points including toxicity levels, dwindling water supplies, and crowded population centers.

The responsibility to act now on climate displacement and other environmental issues does not fall solely on the shoulders of countries; it is shared by sub-national institutions and individuals as well. At Georgetown, the Environmental Future(s) Initiative (EFI) is a group of students and faculty dedicated to increasing the latitude for Georgetown community members to engage with pressing global environmental challenges. As part of this mission, the EFI recently organized a first-ever delegation from Georgetown to attend the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya and a historic delegation to attend the Commission for Environmental Cooperation Council Session in Merida, Mexico.

Additionally, the EFI has been honored to partner with the Global Futures Initiative in organizing the Fall 2016 Speaker Series on Climate Change; by bringing such speakers as the former president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, the EFI is excited to be working and collaborating with others to promulgate the urgency of impending climate crises and the various, diverse manifestations of crisis are each critical and deserving of attention.

If you are interested in the Environmental Future(s) Initiative and would like to learn more or get involved, please contact the authors of this blog post, Aaron Silberman and Sara Carioscia.

Aaron Silberman (SFS '18) is the founder of the Environmental Future(s) Initiative.

Sara Carioscia (COL '17) is a member of the Environmental Future(s) Initiative.

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