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The impact of climate change beyond the weather

Photo of students on the climate change Dialogue of Civilizations to India

Stu­dents on a Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram this summer, including CSSH students Rose Leopold and Lindsey Bressler, spent five weeks exploring the country and learning how cities and coast­lines, as well as farm­lands and power plants, there are preparing for cli­mate change.

With the world’s second-​​highest pop­u­la­tion and a wide-​​ranging infra­struc­ture system nation­wide, India could be greatly impacted by the effects of cli­mate change.

Stu­dents on a Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram this summer spent five weeks exploring the country and learning how cities and coast­lines, as well as farm­lands and power plants, there are preparing for cli­mate change. Auroop Gan­guly, a cli­mate change expert and asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering, led the expe­ri­en­tial learning pro­gram. The group was joined by Jonna Iacono, director of the Uni­ver­sity Scholars pro­gram, and Ganguly’s doc­toral stu­dent Devashish Kumar.

(India) will most likely expe­ri­ence extra­or­di­nary impacts based on the poverty, large pop­u­la­tion, and infra­struc­ture issues there,” said Rose Leopold, SSH’16, a stu­dent who went on the Dialogue.

An extended journey around the country

By vis­iting so many diverse places around India, from the southern coast to the Himalayas in the north, Leopold said the group was able to see first­hand the var­ious ecosys­tems cli­mate change could impact. The group even vis­ited Bengal tiger nat­ural reserves in Rajasthan and in the Sun­dar­bans, a nat­ural region on India’s eastern border with Bangladesh, which is already expe­ri­encing rising sea levels.

The first part of the Dia­logue focused on the sci­ence of cli­mate change and on engi­neering resilience, what could happen in the future, and what pop­u­la­tions can do to pre­vent it. Leopold, a polit­ical sci­ence major, said she enjoyed delving into the causes and effects of cli­mate change, and seeing how cli­mate models, engi­neering plans, and weather pre­dic­tions can influ­ence policy.

The 26 stu­dents on the Dia­logue par­tic­i­pated in a war games sim­u­la­tion, in which the stu­dents split into five groups, each rep­re­senting a dif­ferent Indian sector that could be greatly impacted by cli­mate change—healthcare, water, energy, industry, and agri­cul­ture. The stu­dents then worked together to effec­tively meet each sector’s needs.

What was most sur­prising about this Dia­logue was truly seeing the impact cli­mate change will have on every aspect of our lives,” Leopold said. “It is just going to be a domino effect without the proper infra­struc­ture in place.”

Gan­guly also oversaw this Dia­logue pro­gram last year, and based on that expe­ri­ence added new ele­ments to this year’s pro­gram, including more loca­tions for stu­dents to visit, such as Kolkata, the Sun­dar­bans, the Himalayas, and cities along the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. He also invited two stu­dents, Kara Morgan and Lindsey Bressler, who went on last year’s Dia­logue to serve as student-​​mentors this year.

Timely con­ver­sa­tions on a timely topic

The second part of the Dia­logue focused on the policy side of cli­mate change and the steps India and the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity are taking to lessen the impact. Guest fac­ulty and stu­dents joined the Dia­logue from India’s top insti­tutes, such as the Indian Insti­tutes of Tech­nology in Mumbai and Kharagpur, the Indian Insti­tute of Sci­ence in Ban­ga­lore, and Jadavpur Uni­ver­sity in Kolkata.

Leopold noted that the timing of the Dia­logue helped inspire the policy dis­cus­sions. Just one week before the stu­dents’ sim­u­lated nego­ti­a­tions was the Bonn Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Ger­many, where coun­tries pre­sented their national plans to combat cli­mate change.

Gan­guly said one of the unique aspects of the cli­mate change debate in India is how cer­tain actions will impact the country’s people who are most in need.

Some steps that could be taken to fight cli­mate change, such as cut­ting emis­sions, may have the most imme­diate impact on the poorer pop­u­la­tion,” Gan­guly explained, “and that is some­times used as a reason not to take action. But the other side of the argu­ment is many of the effects of cli­mate change cause the greatest damage to that same group.”

-By Joe O’Connell

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