Former president of Ireland stresses climate awareness during lecture at Columbia College

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson spoke at the 11th Ethics in Society Lecture at Columbia College, March 5, 2013. Tony Alioto, Shiffman Chair and professor in ethics, philosophy and religious studies at Columbia College, introduced the Ireland native as “truly a citizen of the world.”

As she took the Launer Auditorium stage, she praised the college for its values on ethics. The Shiffman Lecture Series, focused on ethics, is what drew her to make a Columbia visit. Ethics, equality and climate change are among her passions and were the topics of her lecture Tuesday evening.

“I’m going to talk from the heart about what encourages me and worries me,” began Robinson.

Robinson visited Malawi, in southeast Africa, while serving as president of Ireland, and holding the title of United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights She recalled noticing the lack of food due to poor climate conditions taking a toll on the individuals she encountered. The population of Malawi at that time was 15 million and is projected to be around 50 million in 2050. Robinson realized that unless the country can produce more food and stop the rapid population growth through family planning education, the poverty rate will continue to increase.

After explaining to the audience the story of Malawi, Robinson went on to discuss how poorer countries are affected by the actions of wealthier countries. Wealthier countries tend to use more than their fair share of resources, and poorer nations must live with the global impacts. For example, the amount of pollution contributed to the atmosphere by developed nations, has allowed sea levels and global temperatures to rise, thus leading to tsunamis, droughts, earthquakes and other climate alterations.

According to Robinson, the world needs the United Nations’ help.

“We need very seriously to bring home a climate agreement by 2015,” Robinson said. “There is no consensus from the delegates of how to move forward though … If we don’t get a climate agreement, we will see terrible suffering.”

It is up to students to become ambassadors of conscience, she said. The younger  generation needs to start rethinking its daily decisions. Robinson encouraged the students in the audience to create a cleaner and safer world.

At the end of her speech, the audience, composed of Columbia citizens and students, lingered to discuss Robinson’s lecture with some waiting in line to speak with the former president. Columbia College senior Russell Cobb said his passion for history and worldly issues drew him to the speech. Cobb said he already knew what Ms. Robinson was talking about and that ultimately, curiosity was what had brought him out.

“I wanted to ask a couple of questions if possible, to learn a little more,” Cobb said.

Columbia College sophomore Kayla Grunow, attended for extra credit, but after the speech, she said Robinson’s lecture gave her a new perspective on the issue.

“I’m going into biology and for my future career, I’m interested in climate,” Grunow said. “I kind of look up to her now. I hope I can make a difference in this field one day too.”