Right here, right now, together -- UMD students talking about their Connect4Climate efforts
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University of Maryland Students Connect4Climate
by Patricia Downie and Henry Ertl
One night out, such an unpretentious action, that changed my life forever. As a University of Maryland (UMD) student this past spring, I attended the Connect4Climate, Right Here, Right Now campaign event at The World Bank in Washington, DC, to celebrate and recognize artists around the world who had participated in a competition to link conversations about global climate change to the local actions of our daily lives. I had no idea at the time what an impact this would have on me.
Our professor, Dr. Leszek Sibilski, had explained that along with the excellent opportunity of attending this event, a couple of students from another class were working on a video assignment and needed a little extra help. So a few UMD students came together and had an excellent evening producing video clips and listening to The World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Sustainable Development Network Vice President Rachel Kyte, External Affairs Vice President Cyril Muller, Africa Vice President Makhtar Diop, the Global Environment Facility’s CEO and Chairperson Naoko Ishii, and the Italian Minister of the Environment Corrado Clini speak and celebrate youth engagement in creative climate action. The amazing tour of the World Bank Headquarters left us concerned and inspired to do a bit more. Later I found out that The World Bank, the Italian Ministry of Environment, and the Global Environment Facility in collaboration sponsored this event with more than 150 partners.
In the following weeks, the footage taken at the World Bank was stitched together along with clips from inside the classroom and, after countless hours of effort put forth by the video producing team, our professor, and the whole class, we were beginning to see the makings of what our teacher claimed to be the start of a social action. Dr. Sibilski was a constant source of inspiration throughout the whole process; no matter how often we rolled our eyes and thought he was over the top with his expectations of our 5-minute video, he always stood by his word. Sure enough, our simple video began as a local action to promote climate awareness through the UMD student body and has now traveled all over the world. The video has landed in just under 200 countries and on all six inhabited continents, and has been posted on websites of governmental and non-governmental organizations in Canada, Germany, Italy, Poland, Philippines, Slovakia, France, South Africa and Taiwan, It even showed up on the Chinese famous video website, Youku. Furthermore, prestigious organizations such as UNICEF, United Nations and African Academy of Science are all talking about a little video from College Park. At the beginning of the production of this video for social action, we never dreamed of our work reaching this many people from so many different parts of our global society. As views continue to rise, it is a constant reminder that this fight for a more sustainable future takes a united global effort.
One of the most important lessons learned from this class’ video project is that the power to make change lies within the capability to raise social awareness, which is done so through social action. It is no secret that the United States is largely responsible for the abundance of carbon in our atmosphere that is throwing the ecological balance way off scale, which is why social and political action in this country regarding these issues are imperative in order for our future to be healthy and green. Thankfully, today we have a president that is bringing the focus back to the environment. In President Obama’s inaugural address climate change took center stage. He went so far as to warn Congress that he would use executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. Facts are facts. The carbon content of our earth’s atmosphere is higher now than it has been in anytime in the past 3 million years. About 3,500 extreme weather records for heat, rain and snow were broken this past year alone in America but this is just a reflection of the trends over the past 15 years. These are not opinions. These are measures. They are facts and they are agreed upon by 98% of the scientific community. One of Obama’s advocacy groups recently commented through social media, “Gravity exists. The Earth is round. Climate change is happening.” Recognition of climate change has grown substantially; now it is our duty to convey these messages to the world in an effort to re-prioritize today’s global issues and put climate change at the top. The cleanliness and survival of our planet is our destiny. Step up and take a stand to move forward on climate disruptions, right here, right now, together!
Because of this video and the awareness of the climate change situation that it brought to me, I selected an internship with the Maryland Energy Administration working to incentivize the reduction of carbon dioxide through alternative energies (electric vehicles, solar arrays, and offshore wind farms).
However, the reality of the situation still did not register in my mind until I realized the size and magnitude of the initiative that the state of Maryland and many other states are levying against climate change. I had the privilege of working with Governor O’Malley’s energy advisor and the Maryland Clean Energy team as goals to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions were developed into legislation and resources were allocated to attain these goals. I immediately began to experience the power of legislation and the incentives that are being executed so that commercial industry and residential energy users alike can change to alternative energy sources. Everyone in Maryland can participate in some way if they are aware and committed to change.
I was privileged to attend the Maryland Climate Change Summit led by Governor O’Malley and sponsored by the University of Maryland. I was stunned when I realized that Maryland is obligating billions of dollars in resources over the next few years to combat climate change. Government buildings will be relocated to higher ground. Shorelines are being reinforced and barriers to resist sea level rise are being built. Insurance companies and regulators are restricting areas that are no longer considered safe. This is happening here and Now! Maryland is a progressive state and has joined a regional initiative to combat climate change. The hope is that other states will follow with similar strategies.
We, “The People” need to take heart in one another because we are why all this is so important. The cleanliness and survival of our planet is our destiny. Step up and take a stand to move forward and reduce climate disruptions caused by fossil fuels and negligent behaviors. Right here! Right now! Together!