Half a degree in temperature seems like it would be barely noticeable, but the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius is significant when measuring global warming. A world 2 degrees warmer would mean up to 3 times the destruction of the world’s natural ecosystem and built infrastructure, and at least a doubling of the number of people exposed to life-threatening heat or hunger.
Christiana Figueres, an architect of the Paris Accord, the United Nations agreement that aims to hold warming at no more than 1.5 degrees, made the audience feel that half-degree during a panel discussion on climate change at the 10th annual Women in the World Summit on Wednesday.
Figueres was joined by 3 other women who are quite literally fighting to save the planet. (Greta Thunberg, who has made waves as a youth climate activist, was invited to participate but refuses to fly due to environmental concerns.) Nevertheless, Thunberg’s presence was felt as moderator Juju Chang, Nightline co-anchor, led Figueres, Cristina Mittermeier, Nina Lakhani and Dr. Mae Jemison in a conversation that included dire warnings and optimistic calls for change.
“That’s why Greta is on the streets. Blessed outrage of Greta leading 1.5 million people on March 15th out in the streets in 88 countries in the world and growing,” Figueres said of Thunberg’s leadership in a worldwide student strike to bring attention to climate change. “They’re telling us, ‘We’re doing our homework, you oldies are not doing your homework.’”
Figueres’s warnings weren’t just about the planet’s future. Fittingly, as founding partner of Global Optimism, she also emphasized the dangers of falling into cynicism and apathy rather than moving toward activism and positive change. Mittermeier, co-founder of SeaLegacy and a National Geographic photographer, works to spur the latter through her storytelling. She has been documenting climate change for years and caught the world’s attention with a now iconic photograph of a starving polar bear. Mittermeier said the shot made people feel the urgency — and anxiety — of climate change.
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Today is #EarthDay ???? National Geographic photographer and co-founder of @sealegacy @CristinaMittermeier has been documenting climate change for years and caught the world’s attention with a now iconic photograph of a starving polar bear. At the 10th annual Women in the World Summit this month, Mittermeier told how 'trying to document climate change is like trying to document a slow-moving tsunami', and that this particular shot made people feel the urgency — and anxiety — of our situation. Watch the full panel discussion on how women can save the planet on YouTube via link in bio ???? Photo courtesy of @cristinamittermeier #polarbear #WITW #climatechange #climatechangeaction
Lakhani, a journalist and author who reports on indigenous communities in Central America, echoed the real effects of climate change. She highlighted the connection between unpredictable weather patterns and migration, which has been grabbing headlines, and stoking fears, in the United States. “For hundreds and hundreds of years, their ancestors have lived in a very sustainable way,” she said. “All of a sudden that doesn’t work anymore.”
Women have been particularly affected by water scarcity, she said, because more often than not, men are the first to migrate. In other parts of the world, a lack of electricity gobbles up hours of many women’s days.
For a broader perspective, Jemison, an engineer, doctor and the first woman of color to go into space, talked about the importance of science literacy and looking at the planet from the heavens. “I had the feeling that the Earth will be here. It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We have to save ourselves. Space is not a Plan B.”
Additional reporting by Anna Hall.