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Re-Imagining Climate Change: A launchpad for transformation

This piece by Kiera Schuller won best overall essay in The Envoy‘s 2016 Global Affairs Essay Contest. 

By: /
10 June, 2016
Skyscrapers Oriental Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Tower (L) are seen from the Shanghai World Financial Center, in rain at the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai, China, January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song
By: Kiera Schuller

Student, University of British Columbia. 

This piece, along with Tudor Schlanger’s ‘Old Europe, New Perils,’ were selected as the winners of an undergraduate op-ed writing competition held earlier this year at the University of British Columbia. The contest was hosted by The Envoy, an online platform for student international affairs writing, in partnership with the UBC International Relations Student Association and the Liu Institute for Global Issues Community Fund. 

Students were asked to make a case for what they believed would be the most pressing issue facing the world five years from now. Kiera Schuller’s piece, judged as the overall winner by the UBC faculty panel, describes a world transformed by human activity — and details the tough decisions which will need to be made in order to allow for a more sustainable, and greener, future. Tudor Schlanger’s article, deemed ‘People’s Choice’ after an online vote, outlines the increasingly precarious situation developing in Europe, as the continent is torn by the political forces which have been shaped by a financial meltdown and a mounting refugee crisis. 

To find out more about contest and the selection process, please visit

Whether we like it or not, the world around us is transforming. Touching every aspect of life on the planet, climate change surpasses any other challenge faced by humanity. We have always depended on the environment around us and today, the very basics of our survival – stable shelter, clean air, fresh water, and access to food – are at risk across the globe. Facing such an uncertain future is a daunting challenge, but ignoring it is no longer an option. As time passes, our opportunity to construct safeguards to prepare for and mitigate risk slips away, and our inability to respond effectively in environmental emergencies could end in catastrophic results. 

However, the urgent nature of climate change also offers a profound opportunity. Preparing for the demands of sustaining planetary life requires deep, reflective planning and cooperative action at all levels of society, and it must take precedence above all else. Creative innovations are quickly emerging, not only in regards to the environment, but our political and social realms as well, and they will continue to gain traction. Across the world, redesigning economies, revolutionizing energy, altering lifestyles, and rebuilding cities are just some astounding changes that are already underway. 

But importantly, it is also time for unprecedented international cooperation, with nations now needing to cooperate in new ways to protect nature and preserve life on Earth. Ultimately, climate change demands that we build progressive global blueprints for our new collective future, and it’s already beginning. 

Economic Transformations

One dimension of this pressing issue is the rapid transformation of our societies’ economies. Under the demands of climate change, models of a more circular economy are emerging to offset our ingrained linear model: cradle-to-cradle economies where all materials are recycled or biodegradable, and production minimizes toxic chemicals and waste. Societies are beginning to establish connections between local farms, gardens, and homes, mapping out sustainable cycles. Lives everywhere are changing, with efforts shifting towards the local and sustainable, emphasizing human health and environments. New businesses are emerging based on these circular supplies (such as supplying renewable energy) and providing services instead of throw-away products. Yet, to pull off these shifts requires unprecedented planning and design. Governments and businesses will have to manage transitions toward smaller networks which reduce energy use and waste. Preparations must be made to ease transitions into these new emerging sectors; ruptures in employment will need to be mitigated, and efficient connections between new industries to share supplies, reduce waste, and ease communication will need to be developed.

On a global scale, cooperation is crucial to managing profound shifts in international trade. Global food systems are transforming towards zero-waste, and global consumption will have to shift away from the meat-heavy, processed diet, towards more sustainable, plant-heavy diet to fit the needs of a growing population. Worldwide, economic sharing platforms will continue to grow, as they have in recent years – such as car sharing, house sharing, recycling and reselling, and they will continue to profoundly transform how our economies are structured. Already, lives across the globe are being transformed with new sectors emerging in different countries and new jobs replacing existing ones. Nations will need generations of new green architects, engineers, environmental educators, and city planners, as well as workers in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, public transit, and park preservation. Economically, climate change is driving an enormous restructuring of society, and this will be paramount to national agendas.

City Transformations 

Climate change is also demanding the redesign of our cities. In 2014, 54 percent of world population lived in urban areas – by UN reports, this is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. In short, managing urban space will be one of the key challenges of the century, and rapid changes are already emerging to mitigate the impacts of climate change. From California to Berlin, new architecture is being developed: buildings that use no heating/cooling, that generate electricity, and incorporate nature into their walls. Companies like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) are setting global green standards. Globally, electric transportation is already moving cities towards more efficient systems, like electric vehicles, bikes, trains, and even ride sharing. Media platforms like Car2Go and AirBnB enable people to communicate and share resources across borders, bypassing institutions and fundamentally changing relationships between people, companies, and governments. As a result, governments and city planners are facing pressing new challenges on both national and international levels. 

International Legal Transformations

Finally, climate change has demanded unprecedented international collaboration. Unlike other crises, it transcends every man-made border, and one nation’s actions impacts all others. International committees are rapidly working to develop global standards; leaders are fighting to establish new legal systems and regulations to structure and safeguard global futures, protecting forest areas, air quality, food standards, and toxin regulation. Innovative models are setting new precedents which other nations may follow, like Bolivia enshrining constitutional rights to nature, and others beginning to develop laws to protect bodies of water. Critically, amidst these collaborations, nations must cooperate to ensure global equity; taking history into account, wealthier countries will need to support developing countries in their transitions towards green economies.

Climate change is transforming our natural and manmade world before our eyes, and changes will only accelerate in the coming years. The question is no longer will we act but how will we act? Facing this daunting challenge involves everyone; across the globe, we must collectively and creatively redesign our entire way of life – new societies, new economies, and new lifestyles. The challenges are multifaceted and demand unprecedented global cooperation, but to protect the future of diverse human life on Earth, a global agenda will have to be prioritized. Ultimately, the way we face these transitions will set the stage for the lives of the coming generations. It is a challenge that has already arrived – our only option is to rise to meet it.

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