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Climate Change – An Interview with Irish Environmental Economist

Climate Change is a subject featured regularly in the media, on TV News, in the papers and on innumerable environmental blogs. But how much do we actually know about Climate Change and the realistic dangers we face?

The Circular sat down with Irish Environmental Economist Ellen Cunningham to educate us on exactly what Climate Change is, and why it’s important people listen to the information being disseminated to them in the media before it’s too late.

Photo Credit: Sophie Collins

So, tell me a little bit about yourself?

My name is Ellen Cunningham. I currently work as an Environmental Economist, and I have a background in Earth Sciences.

What is your current job title, and what does it involve?

As an Environmental Economist, my job basically focuses on evaluating the costs and benefits of good environmental policy, and communicating the economic and social benefits of better air quality, better water quality and reducing the effects of Climate Change on the environment.

What made you want to get involved in Earth Science and Environmental work?

When I went to Uni I was interested in finding out more about the natural environment, but then when I learned about the impacts of Climate Change and the effect it will have on society, I wanted to pursue a career in Environmental Policy and understanding how to communicate the economic and social impact of Climate Change.

What are some of the drastic effects humans are having on the environment?

I think Climate Change is definitely the most drastic effect that humans have had on the environment, and I think this is particularly significant for coastal communities. There’s millions of people who live on the coast across the world and they’re facing threats of sea level rising, but also I think vast amounts of consumption, not just of fossil fuels but of man-made products have led to large amounts of plastic polluting our oceans which is another major issue.

Tell us a little bit about what Climate Change actually is and how it has been caused?

So, Climate Change is predominantly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, so these are oil and coal and when they’re burned they emit greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. So these greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun into the earth which causes a rise in temperature, across the globe. But it is a little more complicated than that, so these greenhouse gas emissions building up in the atmosphere actually fundamentally change the climate system. So that’s why we don’t tend to use the term ‘Global Warming’, we use ‘Climate Change’ because it kind of corresponds to extreme temperatures. The term “climate change” encapsulates extreme winters, unusually high summer temperatures, drought and other forms of intensified weather which are symptomatic of climate change.  The extreme winters we’ve seen in the US this year, as well as those record-breakingly high summers in Australia and sub-Saharan Africa could be classed as examples of this.

How are the younger generations combatting this issue?

I think there is a lot of pressure on the younger generations to be extreme innovators when it comes to Climate Change and there is a big reliance on the idea that technology will eventually take over and will be able to fix this, but I do think that concerns need to be listened to, policy needs to be put in place, and I think the Youth For Climate protests are an example of how fed up the younger generation are with not being listened to on this topic.

Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for CO2 being produced in one area, by helping to fund carbon reduction projects elsewhere. In other words, if a passenger’s flight generates one tonne of CO2, they can choose to help fund a project that can develop the equivalent amount of renewable energy, for example. Examples of offsetting schemes include funding reforestation or investing in renewable energy projects, like wind turbines or solar panels. The aviation offsetting mitigates the environmental impact of air travel, which currently accounts for around 2% of all global carbon emissions. It allows airlines and passengers to compensate for the CO2 emissions released through flying by investing in carbon reduction projects in other areas. An industry-wide approach to offset flight emissions could make all air travel net carbon neutral.

To find out more about the Youth for Climate protests and how to do your part in combatting the issues related to Climate Change, click here.

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