Climate Advocacy in Action: Gordon College Student Engages at COP28
Carolina França ’24—biology major, Brazilian American and São Paulo native—has seen the effects of climate change in her home country. Flash floods have wiped out the homes of family members; unusually hot summers have killed crops and made it harder to find nutritious, affordable food. Now, she’s just returned with James Wheeler ’24 from COP28 (the 28th Conference of the Parties) in Dubai, a yearly UN-hosted gathering of global leaders, policymakers, experts, students and others in response to climate change. There, she met Christians, Muslims and individuals from around the world who are currently suffering from climate-related tragedies all too familiar to her.
“A lot of people in the US are so detached from climate action because they say, ‘My home isn’t flooding; I’m not experiencing any issues,’” she says. “But I’ve had the amazing opportunity to experience things that make me care. Especially now after COP28 I got to put a face to a lot of the issues that climate change causes, and it was really impactful for me because it was a reminder of how important it is to take real, meaningful action now.”
Close Encounters at COP28
COPs typically conclude with delegates crafting resolution documents signed by many countries as accountability to accomplish sustainable goals. The Paris Agreement was one such resolution document from COP21 in 2015. COP28’s final resolution documents were the first in history to call for a transition away from fossil fuels by 2050. “It was the first time ever in history at a COP that we had some sort of mention of fossil fuels inside of a document such as that,” França says. “It was very groundbreaking.”
The most impactful experience for França was the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace—a Christian-Muslim dialogue on climate action. She met other Christians and people of other faiths who care about climate change, mainly because it already impacts them. For example, erosion in Bangladesh causes poor farmers to lose their crops and land. In Ethiopia over 6,741 acres of forests have degraded from extreme heat and clear-cutting. Island nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu—which are located along the equator like São Paulo—are already moving droves of people to places like Australia due to rising sea levels flooding their fields and freshwater sources. Climate change is an imminent catastrophe for the 15 million residents of these island nations, 90 percent of whom are Christians.
“These people—atheists, Muslims, Christians and more—are our neighbors,” she says. “Their lives are not worth less than our comfort. When we fight for climate action, we’re also fighting for our future. Climate change is happening to them now, but eventually we too will feel its impacts in the US, and by then it will be too late to do anything about it.”
COP28 also helped França discover common ground among different religions. “Christianity isn’t the only religion that has earth-keeping mandated in its doctrine,” she says. “It was moving to see other religions quoting their scriptures and quoting their holy books about how creation care is their responsibility. It was a huge learning curve for me because it really opened my eyes to see that other religions do care, and we can work together to save our planet.”
A Call to Action
From São Paulo to Gordon College, creation care has been a lifelong passion for França. During her time as a Gordon student, she’s attended the AuSable Institute—a Christian summer climate action program—as well as the “Faith. Climate. Action” conference at Westmont College. As part of her Young Evangelicals for Climate Action fellowship this year, she’s working in the Gordon Greenhouse as an intern with Dorothy Boorse, Ming Zheng and Greg Keller, professors of biology. They’re developing Gordon’s first aeroponics system, which allows for vertical planting, improving nutrient delivery by spraying a nutrient solution at exposed roots. Since the system doesn’t use soil and can recycle its own water, it can save up to 10 percent of the space of a traditional plant bed and save on water usage.
França hopes her system will not only benefit future Gordon students but will also contribute to helping communities struggling with the effects of climate change. For example, aeroponics could help island nations that are losing land to rising sea levels by growing the same amount of food in less space.
“Genesis 2:15 talks about how we’re called to care for the Earth,” França says. “COP28 showed me about putting into practical use what that Bible verse looks like and learning how to be a good steward through our unique skill sets. Anyone regardless of race, religion or talent can help their global neighbors through climate action.”