Barrington High School Class of 2013 alum Sarah Voska is passionate about the environment.
Sarah does not just talk about it, she is actively working to make a difference. We caught up with Sarah to learn more about how she became interested in the environment, what she hopes to learn from attending the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in Marrahesh, and how we can make a difference in 60010.
When did climate change first become an interest of yours?
: I think I’ve always appreciated the value of the environment, having grown up climbing trees in Tower Lakes and learning from the “Nature Lady” at North Barrington (volunteer mom Karen Yancey), but it wasn’t until high school that I identified myself as an environmentalist. Junior year, I joined the Tower Lakes Lake Committee in 2012 after a huge algal bloom made me see the environmental problems that our lake was facing. I gained so much knowledge about aquatic ecosystems and the direct consequences of our actions on the lake’s health.
Within the environmentalist movement, the conversation on climate change is kind of the capstone topic. The science clearly shows that climate change is real, and it’s manmade. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a UN commissioned team of climate scientists) showed in their 2013 report that over 80% of climate change that has occurred since the 1880s is anthropogenic (caused by humans), and that the planet’s global temperature averages have risen 0.8 degrees celcius since then. Even the Pentagon has called climate change one of the largest threats to national security; it’s now on us to change how we act to mitigate further climate change.
Click here to read Department of Defense Report on Security Implications of Climate Change
: How did you come to work with Care About Climate
I met the director of Care About Climate
, Natalie last year through conversations with Sierra Club’s Student Coalition. I joined a program they were hosting called Online Youth Exchange (OYE)
. OYE is a cross between a "pen pal" and a professional development network for youth environmental activists that pairs students from around the world to discuss environmental issues and receive trainings on community activism and specific environmental topics like climate change, pollution, and alternative energies. The goal is to create a platform for student activists to connect and develop strategies to promote change on a campus and global level.
This year, I am the coordinator of the program- we have 70 participants from 30 different countries! I am really excited to be running the program because the goals of Online Youth Exchange line up perfectly with CAC’s mission:
“to minimize human contributions to climate change and connect
communities by uniting people across the world…to inspire proactive
climate policies, fostering programs that build stronger … and
providing education and outreach programs about climate change.”
Explain what the UNFCCC Conference
is and what your role will be at the conference?
The annual conference was commissioned in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
. The Conference of the Parties (to the UNFCCC) is an annual conference of UN delegates and non-governmental civilian groups (NGOs) ranging from industry and business interests, to farmers and indigenous groups to students and youth organizations.
Prior COPs have resulted in the Kyoto and Montreal Protocols, the former establishing binding emissions targets and the latter banning CFCs (a potent Ozone depleting chemical used in refrigerants). Last November, delegates met in Paris, France where they agreed to an agreement to keep global average temperature rises “well below 2 degrees Celsius” (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
This will be the twenty-second COP in Marrakesh, Morocco
. At the conference, I will be meeting with foreign delegations from youth NGOs, attending and giving presentations, promoting the Online Youth Exchange and working with other US NGOs to pressure our UN delegates to increase their contributions to emissions reductions. I am especially interested on working with NGOs from Latin America.
What do you hope the conference accomplishes?
This conference is going to be a bit lower-key than last year’s conference; we are expecting to see countries working out the details of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs, a statement of how much each country will reduce emissions and by how soon). The Paris agreement said that countries would submit their own plans for how much they would reduce emissions, and then those commitments would become legally binding. But after tallying up the emissions reductions under all of the NDCs, we would still be facing a global average temperature rise of nearly 3 degrees.
One thing we will be focusing on is pushing China and the United States to increase their commitments to carbon emissions reductions in order to meet the less than 2 degree goal. Between the two, they produce 35% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Both the US and China believe that action without reciprocal action will put them at an economic disadvantage, so by working together, we hope to reach a compromise. We also hope to talk more about Climate Finance, something that wasn’t extensively covered in the Paris Agreement. Developed countries are supposed to mobilize $100 billion per year (from public and private funds) over a 5 year period to aid developing countries to withstand and recover from the consequences of climate change. This conference we expect to see more developing countries that are also large emitters, pledge funds, like Brazil pledged in their NDC.
Read more about the United States and China ratifying Paris Agreement here
What are some issues and topics you wish more people were aware of?
I wish more people were aware in general on the externalities or consequences faces by others of their actions. The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and we need to be responsible with that power. Being abroad and working with the OYE students, I am seeing how much the rest of the world is impacted by United States policy decisions, and even pop culture. The US represents 5% of the world population but consumes 25% of its resources. If everyone in the world lived at the consumption standard of the US, we would need 4.5 times the current available resources and land to be able to support demand.
Learn more about world consumption here
As well, while technologies in renewable energies have come a long way, a transition to zero emission electricity will inevitably require a reduction in consumption. We need to make lifestyle changes in order to stop climate change. While austerity measures are painful, the consequences of inaction are far worse.
How can other college students get involved or make a difference?
Other college students and even high school students can get involved by engaging their classrooms in discussions about climate change. Calculate your personal carbon footprint and see what you can do to reduce it. Challenge your family and friends to reduce your carbon footprints and hold each other accountable. Ride the bus to school/onto campus instead of driving. Other students are also welcome to join the Online Youth Exchange to connect with students from around the world about climate action. (Contact me if you want to get involved!)
Calculate your Carbon Footprint here
What are some ways the Barrington community can help?
The Barrington community members can get involved in two ways, Reduction and Awareness.
We can reduce our personal carbon footprints by making small changes to our spending and consumption habits, such as using a timer on outdoor lights, reducing your meat consumption, eating in-season (local) produce, and buying local (support local small businesses and buy American Made).
We can raise awareness by being a conscience consumer of products. Think about how much energy and resources went into its production, and where it will go after you are done using it.
We can also talk to our elected officials:
Contact Dan Duffy, Peter Roskam or Tammy Duckworth and let them know that you care about climate.
Volunteering is another great way to get involved and Barrington has some great NGOs like SmartFarm, Citizens for Conservation, Mindful Waste, Barrington Area Conservation Trust, etc.
And finally, just talk about it! Start a conversation with friends, coworkers or family members about what’s happening to our climate and why. Addressing it as an issue is the first step to finding a solution.