Mary Robinson, president of Ireland from 1990-97, spoke at the 2019 Community Engagement Conference on Thursday. Credit: Michael Lee | Outreach and Engagement Editor

For the final lecture of the 2019 Community Engagement Conference on Thursday, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson spoke to Ohio State faculty, students and other conference attendees about the importance of fighting climate change, as well as what people can do to slow it down.

Joining Robinson on stage in the Archie Griffin Ballroom as a moderator of the conversation was WOSU Public Media chief content director Mike Thompson. As he and Robinson sat down, Thompson immediately said something that would summarize their conversation.

“I would argue that our biggest problem as a species is not that our planet is warming, but to get people to care our planet is warming,” he said.

Robinson and Thompson discussed “climate justice,” which is a concept that links human rights, development and climate change, and also the title of Robinson’s new book.

“Climate justice is very people-centered,”  Robinson said. “It recognizes that climate change was actually affecting people’s lives now.”

Robinson provided some examples, including how climate change is making people poorer, making people travel farther for water and firewood and even displacing them due to floods and hurricanes.

Thompson referenced a poll that said 72 percent of Americans feel like climate change is affecting them personally, and that 62 percent of them believe it’s caused by humans.

Referring to the poll, Thompson asked Robinson if current natural disasters — like the California wildfires and the hurricanes across the U.S. — were helping people realize that climate change was a problem, and a reason for these numbers.

Robinson said scientists who have been tracking climate change track it very scientifically and have a hard time translating it to then average person.

“They don’t communicate it well and people don’t feel this is something personal for them,” Robinson said. “It’s too big an issue and they sort of say ‘Well, if it’s happening, there’s nothing I can do about it.’”

Robinson added that people should make climate change personal, do something to respond to climate change and “get angry at the lack of government response that’s needed.”

“We can all do something, we can recycle more, we can be more energy-efficient, we can contribute to support groups, [be] active on climate or active on sustainability,” she said.

Robinson later took questions from audience members, mostly students, asking questions such as how to deal with the refugee crisis caused by climate change.

For the last question of the discussion, Robinson was asked what people should do if militarization between countries becomes a solution to climate change.

She had no definitive answer.

Even so, she replied with one solution: hope.

“We all need to be prisoners of hope,” she said. “If you are a prisoner of hope, the glass may not be half full, but what you do is you work with what’s in the glass.”