Grad student offers insight into Copenhagen Climate Conference


Engineering graduate student Chalie Nevarez (second from the right) poses with climate activist Bill McKibben.


Upon her arrival in Copenhagen, Chalie Nevarez was astounded by the beauty and simplicity of the Danish city. But Nevarez didn’t have time to sightsee and be a tourist — she was there on a mission.

From Dec. 7 to 18, 2009, Nevarez, an engineering graduate student, spent her days working on solutions to human-forced climate change at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Nevarez was selected as a Wisconsin delegate for Will Steger Foundation’s Expedition Copenhagen. The foundation is dedicated to educating people about climate change and creating programs to spearhead solutions.

Nevarez spoke about her experiences and discussed steps Marquette students could take toward sustainability at a talk in the Alumni Memorial Union Wednesday afternoon.

Nevarez’s mornings during Expedition Copenhagen began with meetings of Conference of Youth, an organization of global delegates representing the youth of their communities. COY gave Nevarez a chance to connect with young people from all over the world and engage in conversations about climate change concerns.

“It was incredible, I built relationships with people from India, Latin America and New Zealand,” Nevarez said.

The COY delegates were separated into three different subgroups: action, policy and communication. Nevarez worked in a policy group focusing on how climate change-combating technology could be transferred across nations. Her position in the group allowed her to meet distinguished people like chief U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing and congressman Henry Waxman.

However, Nevarez said she had little to be happy about near the end of her stay in Copenhagen. When the conference wrapped up and attendees realized no legally binding contract was going to be reached, she said despair and frustration were common emotions.

“It was really disappointing,” Nevarez said. “After all that, we couldn’t get done what we said we were going to do, which was all very frustrating. The more we wait, the harder it will become to rectify these problems on every level.”

Nevarez shared the stage with Zbigniew Sorbjan, a research associate professor of physics, who likened the dangerous potential of climate change to Pandora’s mythical box. According to Sorbjan, failing to solve problems today could result in natural disasters and extreme water scarcity for the future.

As part of COY, Nevarez did all she could to help raise awareness, even participating in the Global Day of Action march through the streets of Copenhagen. According to Nevarez, 100,000 people from various countries and groups took part in the massive march, as well as hundreds of others who cheered and waved flags from their apartment windows. The walk was organized to bring attention to the climate change dilemma and culminated in a speech by climate activist Bill McKibben.

Nevarez also emphasized the need to alert local governments. According to Nevarez, a grassroots movement is necessary because of the inability to agree on a contract at the highest levels of government.

During her talk, Nevarez encouraged students to lead more sustainable lives. To become more informed about the issues surrounding climate change, she recommended classes taught by Jame Schaefer, an associate professor of theology.

According to Schaefer, solving climate change is a task for all humans, and there are particular ethical questions posed to Catholics. Schaefer said the effects of climate change on the survival of the human race is no light issue, and she encouraged faculty and students alike to take a stand.