Adopted by the United Nations and celebrated annually on February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGIS) promotes equal access for women and girls to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. The focus of this year’s 8th IDWGIS is on the role of women and girls in addressing the challenges and opportunities related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, industry, innovation, and infrastructure, sustainable cities and communities, and means of implementation.
In honor of IDWGIS, the story below highlights the journey of a young woman at Notre Dame whose passion for science and climate justice has taken her across the world to COP27 and back to fulfill her dreams.
A Student's Journey for Climate Justice
Upon returning to Notre Dame after the Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP27), Annika Barron ’24 was faced with the sobering reality that the routine of campus life might continue as normal. With her excitement still booming and the intensity of the conference experience lingering joyfully, she was also reminded of the urgency to take action. Barron’s renewed perspective and inspiration had jolted her not only into rethinking her own daily activities but how she might influence the actions of others.
At COP27, Barron had encountered thousands of people from all parts of the world with various backgrounds and levels of knowledge, all working toward a common goal. She compared this to campus life and the diverse population of students. She knew then that her purpose after attending COP27 was to share her unique experiences and bring students together for conversations about the complexities of climate change and how actions—no matter how big or small—can make a difference.
As Farley Hall’s vice president, Barron plans to use her sphere of influence to start having these conversations with students, making her voice heard throughout student dorms, clubs, and classrooms. Already, Barron has organized a campaign to encourage students to lobby their elected officials about climate finance, which was included in her Letter to the Editor published December 8, 2022 in The Observer, the independent newspaper for Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross.
“I would love to see people taking action on a day-to-day basis and to be more mindful,” Barron said. “It’s such an intersectional thing (climate change) that everyone needs to care about it, but everyone can also do something about it, no matter how big or small.”
Some of Barron’s own actions have included cutting down on meat consumption, taking public transportation when possible, and following climate discussions more closely through the news. She also hopes to join the ND Energy Student Energy Board after she returns from studying in Jerusalem with the hope of contributing to outreach programs that encourage mindfulness and actions.
Barron acknowledges that there will be frustrations along the way, yet she hopes her tenacious spirit will prevail and students will eventually unite in moving toward a common goal. She recalls leading an effort to pass a Student Senate resolution calling for the University to reconsider investments that would support the use of fossil fuels. While the administration did not take immediate action, the resolution paved the way for representatives from Student Government to meet with the Endowment Office about sustainable investing.
Barron also points out that Notre Dame is one of the world’s preeminent Catholic universities and as such is well positioned to deliver a message of solidarity and care for our common home that would resonate world-wide and strengthen the global effort toward climate justice.
“Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ talks about creating the culture of encounter and how we can switch to focusing less on consumption and more on caring for other people,” Barron said. “Conversations and relationships are a powerful way to start this. Maybe eating vegan chicken on my Boom Boom salad every Tuesday won’t make a big difference, but it’s the conscientiousness that’s important. Laudato Si’ has provided a compelling framework for understanding why these things are important,” she said. “But we have to be fully committed.”
Attending COP27 became a reality for Barron after she applied for accreditation through the Christian Climate Observers Program, an organization devoted to bringing together emerging climate leaders from different faith backgrounds from around the world. She also received funding from Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Glynn Family Honors Program.
“While climate change has been a big discussion in the Catholic faith, I grew up in an Evangelical church where there was a bit more skepticism,” she said. “The goal of my COP27 group was not only to bring different faith perspectives to COP but to also bring what was learned from COP back to our various churches for discussion.”
The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6-20, 2022. Over 35,000 people attended.
The conference focused on the climate crisis with objectives to move from negotiations and planning to implementation, to harmonize global efforts, and to collectively combat the adverse impacts of climate change (especially the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events impacting millions of lives and livelihoods and the aggravated social, economic and environmental threats). These goals were deemed necessary and crucial to secure a sustainable future for all.
While attending COP27, Barron was an official observer, witnessing negotiations between global leaders and spirited debates that lasted well into the early morning hours. She also attended panel discussions, met with activists, and visited various pavilions highlighting climate action by different countries and organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Children and Youth Pavilion, the Indigenous People’s Pavilion, and others that focused on climate justice, nuclear energy, and arctic science, as well as some dedicated to countries such as Brazil and Ukraine.
“It’s a very overwhelming place to navigate,” Barron said. “I was lucky to be part of a cohort with group leaders who had been there before and knew what to do.”
Although COP27 did not result in a definitive global commitment to transition away from fossil fuels, Barron gleaned hope from the passing of an historic resolution to establish a loss and damage fund, which is expected to aid countries particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods, rising seas and other disasters due to climate change with financial assistance for their losses.
“Meeting so many people from around the world who are fighting for climate justice and taking action is really amazing,” Barron said of her excitement seeing the influence of civil society groups in the passage of the resolution. “This isn’t something only I care about as a student at Notre Dame. This matters to people all over the world.”
About Annika Barron
Annika Barron ’24 is working on her bachelor’s degree with a double major in neuroscience and behavior and global affairs, and a minor in Catholic social tradition from the College of Science, Keough School of Global Affairs, and Center for Social Concerns, respectively. She is also a scholar in the Glynn Family Honors Program and Kellogg Institute for International Studies. Barron’s hometown is located in the Greater Chicago area of Illinois.
Driven by her love of science and her resolve to use it for the greater good, Barron finds the intersection of neuroscience and behavior with global affairs a perfect match to achieve her goals. Currently on track for a career as a doctor, Barron has already received early admission to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
While Barron remains confident that medical school is the right path for her, there are other interests that have led her in different directions along the way. For example, she began thinking about climate change from a public health perspective when the results of the first working group for the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were published in 2021. Since then, there have been two more working groups with reports released February 28 and April 4, 2022.
The initial report warned then that without drastic and immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures were likely to rise beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This level of warming, which was one of the benchmarks set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, posed the risk of more intense storms, extreme drought, and serious flooding throughout the world. This global aspiration continues to drive action to stabilize the climate and prevent further catastrophic disruptions associated with exceeding the more ominous warming threshold of two degrees Celsius.
Barron credits what she has learned in neuroscience with her understanding of the environment and how it impacts human development, especially for children living in vulnerable regions of the world. Often these children are forced to migrate to other parts of the region due to volatile weather patterns.
Drawing on her neuroscience background, Barron is particularly interested in the impact of climate migration on early childhood development. As a greater portion of the globe becomes an unlivable hot zone, she hopes to focus future research on the lasting effects of the fear and stress associated with displacement.
Barron understands that not only neuroscientists should care about the impact of climate change on human health and development. Everyone has a role to play in it. This is why she has become more involved in climate action and is eager to connect with students at Notre Dame.
Contact: Annika Barron ‘24 at email@example.com, Koby Keck, administrative coordinator for ND Energy at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Barbara Villarosa, business and communications program director for ND Energy at email@example.com.
Originally published by energy.nd.edu on February 10, 2023.at