When Dalhousie University‘s Shannon Sterling was contacted by a former scientific colleague this summer, she didn’t hesitate to follow through on endorsing an international climate emergency letter she was asked to support.
“It was actually sort of an obvious thing,” Sterling said. “It was like ‘finally someone’s doing this.'”
The earth sciences professor joined thousands of other scientists around the world when she signed her name in support of the World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency letter.
Published Tuesday in the journal BioScience, the letter includes 11,258 signatures from 153 countries, including 409 from Canada.
“We declare … clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” reads the letter’s opening statement.
Sterling says she felt compelled to endorse the climate emergency evidence and call to action the letter represents.
“The urgency is because there’s a few years left that we can do something to reduce the impacts of climate change — there’s only a few years left.”
“It needs a concerted, international, national, scale effort — beyond that of the individual consumers but involving policymakers, governments and businesses,” she said.
The letter pens a stark reality of climate change evidence and data that was first flagged 40-years ago when 50 countries participated in the 1979 First World Climate Conference in Geneva.
While graphs and detailed evidence of the climate changes observed by scientists are in the letter, Sterling’s students say they aren’t turning a blind eye to conversations around a climate emergency.
“It’s really hard because everyone always says, you can always be doing something to lower your carbon footprint and do your part in preventing climate change but it really is up to the larger businesses and companies and policy-making that will make the difference,” Olivia Rolfe, a Dalhousie student, said.
Rolfe’s peers agree individual change is an important path forward but they’re hopeful the climate change movement will pressure governments to make policy changes that adhere to scientific evidence.
“It isn’t just individual, everyday, don’t use plastic, take shorter showers,” student Lauren Morris said.
“It’s trying to get the movement behind the government to help give these big corporations more responsibility.”
While a response to the letter from international governments remains to be seen, Sterling feels inspired knowing future generations are listening.
“To have the students be passionate about making a change and hopeful and have that energy in the youth, it keeps us from having that climate anxiety and having hope for the future,” she said.
—With files from Bob Weber and The Canadian Press.