Looking for the answers to the meaning of life? Concerned that you have spiraled into a trap of apathetic complacency
and will never get out? There is no better way to turn your life around than fighting against the greatest threat to humanity of all time—say it with me—climate change (The New York Times, “Biggest Threat to Humanity? Climate Change, U.N. Chief Says,” 03.29.2018)!
I first made a connection between climate change and my local area when I learned about the effects of Hurricane Sandy years after it happened. Sandy was the fourth most expensive storm in the United States and led to at least 147 deaths (CNN, “Hurricane Sandy Fast Facts” 10.29.2018). For me, the hurricane was so bad that it took out our house’s power for a week. However, such an intense storm was unusual for our area. Now I know that it is only the beginning of the changes to come as well as a reminder of the changes that are happening right now.
My father would tell me stories about the times he would go ice skating on a pond behind our house as a kid during the winter. But, by the time I was a kid, all the water in the pond had dried up. During my middle school years, my father and I would create a makeshift ice rink out of an outdoor basketball court by filling the rimmed pavement with water.
However, winters eventually became too mild and too variable for the rink to last more than a week without melting. I remember one year on my birthday in early June when my father nearly had heat stroke from working outside all day in the sun. He had water at his disposal to cool down, but extreme heat was not something he was accustomed to. Due to where we lived, we were supposed to be one of the lucky ones who wouldn’t experience any drastic changes when it came to climate change. We live at high elevation, have plenty of access to water and are surrounded by trees everywhere. But, if this is what we experienced, then we can certainly no longer ignore the ramifications in other parts of the country.
Clearly, climate change is threatening our lives right now, and you bet it will threaten our futures, too. But how bad is it really? According to a 2015 study, changing temperatures and climates will make it more difficult to grow crops like hops, which are used to make beer, as well as cocoa and coffee (The Guardian, “No more beer, chocolate or coffee: how climate change could ruin your weekend,” 06.09.2015). In addition, rising sea levels will contaminate our already-scarce fresh water supplies and displace millions of people around the world. Living will become more expensive, and wealth inequality will expand, increasing poverty. No one wants to think about how their friends and family may suffer from health problems related to pollution or lack the funds needed to afford healthy food and clean water. However, our government’s long-standing incapacity to address climate change has forced many of us to confront these prospects on a daily basis.
For those who want to learn more, the nonprofit online magazine Grist broke down how climate change will affect each region of the United States based on the Fourth National Climate Assessment written by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 2018. The report describes in detail how the Northeast will suffer the highest rate of ocean warming, the Southeast will experience record-level extreme heat, the Northwest will face more wildfires and so on (Grist, “We broke down what climate change will do, region by region,” 11.29.2018).
However, I have placed my hopes in the potential of young people. I think we are smart and capable. We’ve done a lot of cool things already, like March for Our Lives and fighting to make Black Lives Matter. You have done a lot of cool things, don’t deny it. I think the next cool thing that we will all do together is make our planet habitable for ourselves, our neighbors and maybe our favorite plants and animals, too (love you, polar bears). Making the planet livable for future generations would be great as well, but let’s face it, we’re already struggling to care for the people who are currently on the planet. So for now, let’s focus on ourselves (who doesn’t love that?).
To care for ourselves, we need to think communally, not individually. Realize that the actions of your community members, your Congress members, your Uber drivers and your Starbucks baristas are impacting you and that your actions impact them. We need to engage each other in conversations concerning our lives. We need to demand justice, build hope, share knowledge and celebrate success. We need to believe that keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is achievable.
One way that young people are fighting against climate change is by joining the Sunrise Movement, a coalition of young people mobilizing to stop climate change and create good jobs in the process. According to Sunrise, “[F]ossil fuel CEOs and corrupt politicians have been blocking actions to stop climate change and consolidating power in the government.” To stop this system, we need a movement of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics and elect leaders who will stand up for the health and well-being of all people (Sunrise Movement, “We Are Sunrise,” 2019).
If you want to enact change, then there is no limit to what you can do. You can call out your congressional representatives for not being aggressive enough on climate policy and urge them to support new legislation like the Green New Deal. Drawing from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous New Deal, the Green New Deal would spark a nationwide mobilization of Americans to restore prosperity to our land, economy and infrastructure.
Proposed by the Justice Democrats and other progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Green New Deal calls for a rapid decarbonization of our economy by 2030 and for the creation of equitable renewable energy and a political system that guarantees jobs and healthcare to all Americans. It is the first proposal of its kind that addresses the climate crisis at the scale necessary to keep warming to at most 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. While a majority of Americans have agreed to this deal, not all members of Congress have supported the cause (Vox, “The Green New Deal, explained,” 01.07.2019). To change that, show them who their constituents are. Tell your friends, family, professors and anyone else with whom you interact that you are concerned and want to do something meaningful about climate change.
A climate policy that refuses to clearly follow the science of the 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Fourth National Climate Assessment would be morally unjust. To completely stop carbon emissions and reverse the rate of climate change, we need to reimagine an economy that is not built for growth, but instead for sustainability (NPR, “Kate Raworth: How Can We Create A Thriving Economy For Ourselves And The Planet?” 12.07.2018). We need to reimagine a political system that is not run by corporate interests but instead by the communities directly impacted by the policies designed by our government.
This sounds crazy, obviously—overhauling the economy and stopping fossil fuel lobbyists—but we deserve better. And we need to believe that, too.
I’m fighting for a Green New Deal and stand with Sunrise because I believe we as young people have the power and the will to change the conversation on climate change. I want to live in a world where society prioritizes people’s health and prosperity of people over the profits of polluters and where hurricanes and droughts don’t kill people. By bringing communities of people together from across the country, sharing our stories and our goals, we can change the course of our future to control the greatest threat to humanity of all time. The Sunrise Movement, Vassar Greens, Vassar, Students for Equitable Environmental Decisions (SEED), DivestED, Our Climate, Environment America and many other local and national organizations recognize our power as a collective to demand radical climate justice. We are excited for young people like you to join the fight.