Curious Climate schools
Curious Climate schools

Dr Rachel Kelly

Affiliation
Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania
Research Areas
Human dimensions of the ocean - including ocean/climate literacy
Why I do what I do
To better connect people to the world around them and empower them to protect it.
Something interesting about me
I grew up on a farm in Ireland, another island far far away.

Questions answered by this expert

How can people, our age, act on climate change?
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This is an excellent question, and one of the questions most students want an answer to. You can be someone who takes climate action!

Each of us can act individually (on our own) and collectively (together with others) to act on climate. We know, from scientific evidence, that climate change cannot be stopped and is happening already – but it can be reduced and slowed down. People today and into the future (including you) can make changes and decisions that will greatly reduce climate change and its impacts.

Some of these decisions are happening on a systemic scale - they the really big changes we need to reduce emissions from industries and electricity generation.

For example, world leaders are meeting together at COP26 (which is the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) to discuss pathways to do this – in particular, to ensure that global temperature rises do not exceed 1.5 degrees, and how we can adapt to climate change impacts into the future. If we can manage to greatly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide) we can limit climate change. 

You might wonder how young people can influence big changes like this? By using your voices! Young people are involved in many groups and movements such as the School Strikes for Climate that have already made a difference to the way world leaders think about climate action.

Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament
Greta Thunberg addressing the European Parliament

At a smaller scale, all of us can do something to make positive changes and have an impact on tackling climate change. Some people can do more and less than others, and that is OK - it’s great actually because lots of small changes can lead to big impact. In everyday life, there’s lot that you might be able to do, for example: 

  • You can aim to take the bus or walk, or ride your bike to school more. 
  • You could eat more vegetables, and eat meat less often (maybe even encourage your family and friends to have ‘meat free Mondays’?!). Plant-based foods generally produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and they also require less energy, land, and water usage. 
  • You can speak up! Tell your friends and family about climate change and the small changes each of us can do to make a difference - remembering that we all have different abilities to make these changes, big and small. 

There are a lot more ideas you can check out on our 'What can I do?' page.

How many more degrees until the world becomes uninhabitable?
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This is an excellent question! And a complicated one to answer because it involves lots of different parts, but let me try! Lots of you might have heard that globally, we are trying to limit global warming to 1.5°C in the next decades. Whilst this might sound like a small number, it actually reflects an average of temperature increases and decreases all around the world. The reason that 1.5°C has been identified is that if we go past this temperature rise the world is likely to experience extreme events such as heatwaves, forest fires and flooding more frequently – but the world won’t be uninhabitable. 

The world will not become uninhabitable because we will be able to adapt – already, lots of people are adapting to climate change around the world. For example, in Australia we are managing forests differently to prevent big burn events from happening. Scientists and Indigenous people are working together to reduce forest fires and protect natural environments, wildlife, and people. Australia is also protecting important ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef – the National Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is working to help the reef adapt and recover from the impacts of climate change. 

We are long way away from an uninhabitable temperature! It could take many thousands of years for temperatures to be too severe for people to live. But we want to protect people today and future generations from extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change. To do so, people around the world will need to act fast to make changes. If we can manage to greatly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide, CO2, by driving less or by burning less fossil fuels like coal) we can limit climate change. 

How long will it take if we all decide to stop climate change together?
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This is a great question! The recent IPCC report (from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which includes experts from Tasmania!) tells us that collectively, we will need to act fast to make changes to limit global warming to 1.5°C in the next decades. If we can manage to greatly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide, or CO2, by driving less or by burning less fossil fuels like coal) we can limit climate change. Most likely, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures become stable.  

To help have quick and large impact, we need to take action at individual, collective and systematic levels: 

At an individual level, each of us can do things like: 

  • Aim to take the bus, or walk or ride your bike to school more instead of travelling by car.  
  • Eat more vegetables and less meat (maybe even encourage your family and friends to have ‘meat free Mondays’?!) Plant-based foods generally produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and they also require less energy, land, and water usage. Or try to eat more local food that hasn’t need to come from far away, which is a fun way to try new food and get to know Tasmanian food producers at your local farmer’s market!
  • Speak up! Tell your friends and family about climate change and the small changes each of us can do to make a difference - remembering that we all have different abilities to make these changes, big and small. 

But remember that this will require more than just individual action. And whilst reducing emissions is a good thing, if we completely stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, there wouldn’t be enough energy to generate electricity, or for us be able to travel and bring people and food to places around the world. That means we need to change our systems (like the ways we transport things, and make electricity) so that we can live without needing to use fossil fuels. 

As you’ve outlined in your question, we need to work together to achieve these kinds of system changes to take action on climate. Using our voices to demand change is also a really important thing we can do. Find out more things we can all do on the 'What can I do?' page.

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