Dr. Cara Augustenborg is an environmental scientist and climate lecturer at UCD and Trinity College. As somebody who dedicates every day to research and educating people on a topic that is changing our world, she is a perfect example of an Horyou Personality doing positive, impactful work.
1) Horyou is a platform to highlight the people and projects that are making a positive impact on our world. Tell us about your work and how it is contributing to social good?
I’ve studied environmental science for over a decade now and the overwhelming evidence on the impacts of climate change has led me to the conclusion that climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. Vested interests have prevented the full significance of climate change from reaching the general public because it’s in their economic interest not to address climate change. My own work to date has been focused on countering those vested interests by presenting climate change impacts and solutions in a simple, accessible, and objective manner. It can be really depressing talking about the endless impacts of climate change, but understanding the solutions to climate change requires knowledge in so many fields, from science and engineering to psychology, politics, law, and economics. I draw on all those disciplines in my work to try to emphasize that the things we need to do to slowdown climate change are also things that would improve our society, economy, health, and quality of life anyway.
2) Horyou was proud to be a part of COP 21 this year. Tell us your thoughts on what was agreed and the next steps for action?
COP21 was a historic occasion and it was a thrill to be present the moment 195 countries agreed to finally address climate change. However, the ambition of the Paris Climate Agreement is detached from the science of global warming. While the Agreement would have been a resounding success 15 years ago, we are running out of time to solve an impending climate crisis and it’s not clear if the Paris Climate Agreement has enough substance or fast enough timelines to do what really needs to be done, which is essentially to move to a fossil-fuel free global society in the next three decades. The only way to ensure success is for people and NGOs to push their governments to act on the level of ambition set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement. Right now, every country needs to ramp up their level of action from the intended nationally determined contributions they set-forth before COP21 or we simply won’t achieve the target of keeping the Earth’s average warming from pre-industrial temperatures below the 1.5C limit established in the Paris Climate Agreement.
3) Many industries are now realizing that being environmentally conscious is good business and will actually serve them and their profits in the long run. What are your views on this?
It is great to see some industries and businesses looking at their contribution to long-term societal and environmental sustainability. I think the advances that have been made on putting a financial value on nature (natural capital) and moving toward a circular or green economy, where the waste from one industry becomes the fuel for another, are really helping businesses to incorporate true sustainability into their business models. We still need to see businesses and governments divesting from fossil-fuel based practices and incentivising businesses that are supporting the low-carbon transition. The divestment movement has been phenomenally successful in only a few years at moving assets away from fossil fuels, but our governments are still subsidizing fossil fuel extraction and exploration which completely defeats the ambition of the Paris Climate Agreement.
4) You are a lecturer at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin so you are surrounded by “millennials.” How would you sum up the attitude of today’s students around climate change/sustainable living?
Teaching university students about climate change and environment is definitely the element of my work that keeps me motivated. They are so open to new ideas and positive about their ability to influence change. The millennials do not see climate change as something that will impact future, distant generations but as a crisis of their own generation and one that will impact their children even more significantly. In Ireland, we’re already seeing the climate change in a world that is only 1 degree Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial baseline. We’re seeing stronger storms, more frequent floods, and we’re looking at potential sea level rise of 1 meter over this century, which will displace at least 45,000 homes and businesses along our coasts. Ireland is considered to be one of the less-impacted countries with respect to climate change, so we also anticipate it will become a safe-haven for climate refugees, dramatically altering our population density and rural environment. The millennials will witness many of these changes in their lifetime, so they feel a greater sense of urgency to address the problem than the generations before them. As lecturers, I think we have a real obligation to educate them about the challenges they’re facing to improve their odds of being able to adapt and alter how they plan to prepare for climate-related risks.
5) Horyou supports people acting on their dreams through the work that you do. What are your ultimate goals or ambitions?
My goal is simple. All I really want is to leave this planet a little better than the way I found it. I live by Alice Walker’s words: “Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet.” I started my academic career in water research because I thought clean fresh water resources were the greatest global challenge facing us today, but as the scientific evidence began to mount up I soon realized that climate change was an even greater challenge and would create disruptions in our water cycle that would lead to even greater global instability. So, if I’m going to leave this world a little better than I found it, I feel I have to do whatever I can to help solve climate change. Sometimes that feels like an impossible task because solving climate change requires an understanding of so many disciplines, but ‘many hands make light work’ so I contribute in whatever small ways I can, be it through teaching, writing, research, or activism. Together with my colleagues in the academic and NGO sectors, I think we’ve made good progress in advancing understanding of climate change in Ireland, but we still have a long way to go and there’s no end to the battles we face to create real action on climate. I know no one can solve climate change on their own, so I just feel privileged to get to help out in whatever way I can and I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who are a joy to work with and inspire me to keep going.
Aside from educating the next generation of hopeful change makers in the world Cara blogs at caraaugustenborg.com and will soon launch “The Verdant Yank,” giving her Irish American perspective on Ireland’s environmental issues. Dr. Augustenborg’s main aim is to make environmental issues part of the national conversation. She wants to help people to understand them in the context of the economic and social fabric of societies at this critical time. We are proud to have featured Dr. Augustenborg on the Horyou blog.
Written by Dearbhla Gavin