Conference speakers call climate change a social issue

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Representatives of MN350, whose mission is to create a climate movement in MN through grassroots organizing and grass roots action, spoke at the Global Social Responsibility Conference recently. Patti O’Keefe and Andy Pearson both spoke at the seminar about climate change in Minnesota and the development of the movement. O’Keefe focused primarily on divestment work while Pearson works to try and stop the tar sands pipeline from being developed. The organization tries to accomplish these goals primarily by getting citizens involved in the process.

“Most of the big changes that have ever happened in our history have come along with social movements. You don’t think about civil rights without the Civil Rights movement. You don’t think about women’s suffrage without that movement,” Pearson said.

Pearson started off the seminar by giving a summary of the climate’s current condition and explaining the reason behind the name.

“The 350 in the name represents the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in terms of parts per million that is the safe level that we have to get back down to in order to keep the Earth stable and consistent,” Pearson said. “These numbers are based on a very famous paper by James Hansen from NASA, probably the top climate scientist that’s ever been. We are now at 400 ppm, so we need to get back down to 350,” Pearson said.

Pearson went on to explain that pre-industrial civilization was about 280 ppm, and that the Earth has seen an incredible percentage increase since then.

MN350 focuses on fighting fossil fuel industries because they see greater regulations on the industry as one of the best ways to reverse climate change.

“The fossil fuel industry is currently the leading cause of climate change globally,” O’Keefe said. The presenters shared a clip from the movie “Do the Math” by Bill McKibben, the organization’s founder, who summed up the current state of the climate in three numbers.

The first number is 2 degrees Celsius, which stands for the temperature many scientists agree it is safe for the Earth’s temperature to rise to. The second number is 565 gigatons, which many scientists agree is the most amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere without causing the Earth’s temperature to rise above 2 degrees Celsius. The third number is 2795 gigatons, which is the amount of oil reserves estimated to be currently in the ground available for extraction. McKibben explained that at a rate of 30 billion tons a year and at an annual increase of 3 percent per year, we will reach the 565 gigaton limit in 15 years.

O’Keefe and Pearson focused much of the rest of their presentation on how climate change can cause and exacerbate social issues. O’Keefe shared some statistics found by the World Health Organization.

“250,000 additional deaths per year are estimated between the years 2030-2050 from malnutrition, malaria, heat stress, extreme weather events as a result of climate change,” O’Keefe said. “Areas with weak infrastructure in developing countries are those that will be least able to cope and prepare for climate change which makes this inherently a justice issue.”

O’Keefe and Pearson explained that the issues caused by climate change could be a cause for political unrest in the future.