The politics of climate change
On March 15, tens of thousands of young climate change activists took to the streets in protest around the world. These strikes were organized by Greta Thunberg, who founded the Youth Strike for Climate movement and was recently nominated for a Nobel peace prize, all at the age of 16. The emergence of voices from younger generations echoes a larger underlying frustration with older generations and their lack of urgency when it comes to climate change.
In October of last year, the United Nations’ scientific panel released a report on climate change, outlining much dire consequences than previously predicted. The complexities of the problem essentially boil down to 1.5 degrees Celsius; if global temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Earth will be irrevocably damaged.
The United States is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Report after report has warned us of the immediate consequences of climate change, and time after time, the United States has failed to enact proper federal legislation to address the worsening climate situation. Policy should be open to discussion and debate, but the urgency in which we approach climate change should not be a partisan issue.
The most recent proposal for fighting against climate change is the Green New Deal. Sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the Green New Deal is a simple (non-binding) congressional resolution proposing a set of economic programs to combat climate change and economic inequality. It calls for national mobilization away from fossil fuels to make the U.S. carbon neutral by 2030.
In order to achieve its goal of having the U.S. run on 100 percent renewable energy, the Green New Deal seeks to upgrade to “smart” power grids, maximize infrastructure efficiency, overhaul transportation systems to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and invest in zero-emissions sources. It also aims to provide everyone with a “family-sustaining wage” by creating high-paying jobs in clean energy industries.
Criticisms pointed at the resolution’s impracticality are founded on political polarization rather than scientific analysis. A New York Times article confirmed that the Green New Deal is technologically and economically possible, and yet, “if the Green New Deal advances beyond a resolution to bill-writing, its policies have no chance of passing in the currently divided Congress.”
The Republican Party has condemned the resolution as a “socialist wishlist untethered to economic realities.” Even many moderate Democrats say the deal is too “leftist” and urges more realistic goals. Our very own president doesn’t even believe in climate change.
Furthermore, the fossil fuel industry spent over $2 billion lobbying against climate change action from 2000-2016, according to a 2018 academic study by sociologist Robert Brulle. This year alone, the industry has contributed almost $125 million to congressional campaigns, according to opensecrets.org.
Instead of allowing special interests to dominate the conversation surrounding climate change action, members of Congress should listen to the public. Despite the lack of support from within Congress, there is strong bipartisan support among registered voters for the Green New Deal. According to a nationally-representative survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 81 percent of surveyees either strongly support or somewhat support the Green New Deal, with a 92 percent majority within Democrat voters and 64 percent majority within Republican voters.
Climate change denialists (other than contending the false claim that climate change is not human-caused) have argued increasing global temperatures will not have a significant enough immediate impact to warrant drastic changes right now.
However, the effects of climate change are already deeply and widely felt. Over the past century, California has suffered from its worst drought and warmed by about three degrees Fahrenheit; last year, the most destructive wildfires in California history burned over one million acres and caused $9 billion in damages. This year, record floods have inflicted a calamitous toll on farmers and ranchers in the Midwest, leading to emergency declarations in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. If global carbon emissions continue, the projected costs of damages for the U.S. is over $572 billion; even if moderate precautions are taken, the costs will still be over $313 billion, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Failing to invest in the conservation of our environment will undoubtedly end in us paying the extortionate price later.
If the Green New Deal ever gets a floor vote, it has little chance of passing. In spite of this, the resolution has transformed the discourse around climate change. Politicians and media outlets have talked about climate change more this year alone than the last 10 years combined. The Overton window has been shifted; the millions that have come of age not knowing a world without climate change are now stepping up and using their voices.
Climate change is the issue of our generation. We only have until 2030 — 12 years — to take action against irreparable damage. Simply acknowledging the factuality of climate change is no longer enough, a carbon tax is no longer enough, reaping the benefits of our complacency while leaving future generations to die is no longer enough. Out of everything changing in our world — increased global temperatures, a changing climate, a widening wealth gap — it’s time for us to finally change.
By Sarah Aie, Online editor-in-chief
Editorial cartoon by Amy Lo