Eighty people came out to LangLab on November 21 to participate in the last Pop-Up University lecture of the fall semester. Krista Bailey, Director of the Center for a Sustainable Future, helped us to understand the connection between climate change, conflict, poverty, and food waste. All four of these topics are on the list of the Top 10 Issues in the World, with climate change at number one. Bailey provided several graphs to demonstrate the rise in carbon dioxide, which had never hit above 300 parts per million until after WWII, and the rise in temperature, which has been steadily increasing since the 1970s. These changes have had serious consequences in places that people never imagined. In 2006 and 2007, the countries of Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and the southern parts of Turkey were known as the countries that made up the Fertile Crescent. This area has since experienced the worst of droughts, ruining farmland and water systems. This, in addition to the political and social unrest, has created great conflict. In 2011, Syria saw the worst of this with half a million dead, 4.8 million refugees, and 7 million people displaced. Poverty has a special relationship with climate change. On a global scale, except for sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty has been decreasing. However, we have also experienced a global increase in carbon dioxide and temperatures, leading some experts to speculate that as humans do better for ourselves, the planet suffers. The last challenge Bailey discussed was food waste. According to recent research, one third of the world’s food is wasted each year; 40% of this waste comes from the United States, which is roughly $1500 per household per year. Bailey pointed out that what we have on the Earth is all we have, and although we may throw things out, they don’t just vanish. The things we throw out go places where they then produce methane, which is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
In response to the four interconnected issues discussed, Bailey offered “pathways, not answers,” starting with the need for a new norm of cooperation. We live in an individualistic society where we value convenience and cost-effective alternatives. In order to radically change the way we live and the trajectory of our planet, Bailey says we need to “do everything differently, together.” It’s easier to stick to a new way of life when you’re part of a group of people who want the same things as you. These pathways also include small, achievable tasks, such as using reusable bags, buying food that you need for the next food days instead of in bulk, and teaching the next generation how to take care of the planet and to work together.