As a young person in today’s society, I often feel like I, along with my peers, am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders - literally! When I first read about the rainforest being on fire for the third week straight, I suffered what seemed to be a hybrid of a heartbreak and a panic attack. Instagram and other forms of social media have highlighted the ominous predictions for sea level rise over the next decade, and I had already seen the videos of the Greenland ice melt, but for some reason, seeing pictures of the most diverse ecosystem on the planet turning to smoke, hurt far worse than what I had already known.
As a result of rapid deforestation, and the Earth’s temperatures rising, there are 80% more forest fires in the Amazon region this year than last. The Amazon rainforest is home to over 40,000 plant species and over 100,000 animal species, including the birds that fly in the canopy, the apex predators that hunt on the forest floor, and the insects that claim the parts of the forest too small for other inhabitants. As if that is not enough, this diverse ecosystem is also home to 30 million people, spanning several ethnic groups in nine different political systems. Though I had understood climate change was an issue, this was the first time I had realized that climate change was the issue. By that I mean, climate change is without a doubt going to have drastic impacts on every aspect of my future, and your future, if you’re reading this. But how do we talk about climate change when our society seems to be plagued with so many other major issues?
With mass shootings taking place more often than we’ve ever seen before in history, an opioid epidemic compounded by a poor healthcare system, human rights violations at the Mexican-American border, and political tension seen around the world, it might be difficult to start the much needed conversation about climate change when these other issues may seem more pressing to activists and those following the news. Even though the United States President, Donald Trump, doesn’t consider climate change a global issue that affects everyone, the six other industrialized democracies that make up the seven largest IMF-described economies met on August 25th at a G7 summit meeting to discuss ways to deal with the climate crisis, and what to do about the Amazon forest fires. This issue is a big deal. It won’t only be Brazilians orindigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest feeling the heat of this fire, but the whole world has a lot to lose if we do not start talking about climate solutions, implementing equitable climate policy, and holding large corporations and our representatives accountable.
It is important to acknowledge that people disproportionately affected by climate change are usually the same people experiencing other institutional disparities such as unequal access to healthcare, education, fresh food, clean air and water, and are disproportionately incarcerated. With natural disasters getting more intense over the recent years, we have seen communities in New Orleans, Houston, Tallahassee, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, destroyed by hurricanes; many of them still recovering from the devastation. The National Climate Assessment warns that climate change will have significant impacts on the foods we eat and our access to clean drinking water. In a world where 11% of the population already lives without access to clean water, and nearly half of the population living on less than $2.50 a day, the unrecoverable loss of resources will cause tension and unrest. People will be excluded either geographically or socially from the severely limited resources and wars will begin over clean water and food. Climate refugees will flee from regions of droughts, or regions now under water, and we will see overcrowding in many areas. Globally, we’ve witnessed countless developing nations battered by tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires, and droughts, though their carbon footprint is far less than their capitalistic, developed counterparts.
The Environmental Protection Agency says industries are responsible for 21% of greenhouse gases. Another 25% comes from electricity and heat production, and a comparable 24% from agriculture. These are all human related causes of climate change that could be regulated to be more sustainable for the planet and all the people who call Earth home. The corporations and other entities contributing to climate change need to be held accountable for their actions because when you violate the planet and its resources, you also violate humanity. They are exploiting people of color and low socioeconomic status by excluding them from access to a healthy environment. Furthermore, our representatives need to be held accountable in representing us regardless of our race, gender, and socioeconomic status.
So, whatever your fight, recognize that climate change is a human rights issue and the conversation needs to be happening daily. Our futures depend on us voting consistently at the ballot and with our dollars. We MUST call our legislators! It’s crucial to let them know that you’re concerned for your future and demand they bold action on climate change. More importantly, our legislators are elected to work for us, and they need to listen to their constituents. Other important conversations come in the form of presentations at local schools about climate change, and getting young kids into nature to appreciate its immensity and necessity to life. Talk to your peers. Talk to your parents. Change starts with the conversation.