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Seventh- and Eighth-Graders Expand Understanding of Climate Change

Friday, December 18, 2015

The warmer December weather has many pondering whether global warming is to blame for the unseasonably mild temperatures. But Manhattan Country School’s burgeoning environmental stewards have been contemplating climate change for quite some time. On Thursday, Fifth Floor students explored the issue further when MCS parent Tom Kruse (Julia Elena ’16) stopped by their morning meeting to discuss how countries and activists across the globe are coming together to address this critical issue.

Tom talked to the students about the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris—which he attended in both a professional and personal capacity. As a program director at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund he provides grants to organizations that are working to address global justice and the environment. He has also been personally active in the climate justice movement for many years, inspired by the melting glaciers he observed while living in Bolivia.

Tom and the students discussed the Paris Agreement that was negotiated and approved at the conference. Under this global pact, the 195 participating countries agreed to reduce emissions in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas. Members also agreed to reduce carbon output and to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius. While the agreement represents progress, Tom and the students explored the benefits and challenges.

Under the agreement, the U.N. requires countries to have a plan to reduce emissions and to minimize warming, but the plans don’t have to do enough to meet the agreement goals, said Tom. In addition, there is currently no penalty for countries that don’t meet these goals. Tom likened this to having homework but no grading. However, he noted that through the agreement there are now mechanisms in place for people to speak up when they feel that there isn’t enough being done. “The U.N. process gives us the tools to pressure government to do more,” he said.  

Tom described the conference in Paris as a historic moment. In addition to U.N. meeting, more than 20,000 people from different organizations came together in the City of Light to address the climate crisis. Tom said the exchange of ideas was a “huge learning exercise.”

During Tom’s visit, the students had an opportunity to watch a short video titled “The Hard Truth About the Paris Climate Deal,” which drew attention to the flaws in the Paris Agreement and asserted that the Paris Climate Deal won’t save the planet, people will.

Tom echoed this sentiment when he talked about the role of the protesters who gathered during the conference. He was part of a group working to shut down coal plants and participated in a rally across the Champs-Èlysèes. “I never felt a moment quite like this,” he said.

In 2018, countries will have another opportunity to discuss their progress in addressing the climate crisis. There is hope that by then there will be new and better plans. Until then, Tom said, “We have to push government to do more.”