Of all the problems the world faces, climate change is the most threatening. It’s a global issue: every country can and will be affected by it. It’s dangerous: it doesn’t merely have the power to destroy a city or a nation, but also the world. And it’s fast-approaching: South Africa’s drought, California’s wildfires, and recent abnormal weather patterns all show this. But while time is running short, it’s not too late to save our planet.
More than ever, young people today are asking how to get involved and make positive change in their communities. Working to stall global warming is a great way to make a meaningful difference. Best of all, you don’t need a lot of money, time, or connections to do so. You just need the right attitude.
There are plenty of simple ways to help the environment. If every household in the United States replaced one lightbulb with an energy efficient bulb, it would be equivalent to taking one million cars off the road. Recycling plastic bags, newspapers, and bottles save scarce space in landfills and prevent the infusion of dangerous micro plastics into marine ecosystems. And inflating one’s tires to proper levels will keep nearly 360 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere per year per car. It may not seem like these changes will save the planet, but there’s strength in numbers. If everyone makes one change in lifestyle along these lines, it will reduce our collective footprint enormously, buying more time to implement large-scale policies.
But while individual, consumer-oriented solutions are useful, they only scratch the surface. In order to effectively address climate change, there must be a fundamental shift in political attitudes and economic incentives. Voting for candidates who acknowledge the severity of climate change and support sustainable policies to combat it, such as carbon emissions taxes or campaign finance reform, is a good start. But we must also actively spread the word. Writing Op-Eds, contacting representatives, lobbying elected officials, organizing and leading an initiative, or even running for office oneself are good ways to have a more significant impact.
For instance, at my college, I run the Take Back the Tap initiative, a student-led push to reduce bottled water consumption on campus. By removing bottled water from vending machines, installing water bottle filling stations, and encouraging the use of reusable water bottles, the initiative aims to reduce campus consumption of single-use bottles of water by 37,000 bottles per year by 2020. These initiatives are relatively simple to start and administer, and have meaningful effects.
Consider the alternative. Complacency will lead to a continuation of the trends we see today. In the next century, National Geographic projects that sea levels will rise anywhere between half a foot and two feet, imperiling coastal cities like New York and Miami, and threatening the total flooding of several islands, including many island-nations. Hurricanes, droughts, and disease epidemics will increase in frequency and strength. Entire species will go extinct, and less fresh water will be available. The global order will be upended by the loss of entire nations, or by the flooding of Wall Street. What’s more, there will be tens of millions of climate refugees. And that’s just the prediction for the next century.
We’re running out of time to save the planet. Too many adults, because they won’t live to see the consequences of inaction, simply don’t care. It’s thus up to young people to save the only planet we’ve got. So let’s put politics aside and get to work not only for ourselves, but also for our children and grandchildren. The future depends on it.
This blog was submitted to the Greening Forward Blog Competition by Alexander Cook.