By Mytreyi Sureshkumar (‘21)
Climate change is taking front and center in a now growing list of issues students are concerned about. This year, on March 14, teens all over the word skipped school to demand action against climate change. They gathered in front of government buildings holding posters and chanting to bring attention to the issue.
Many government officials argue that climate change simply does not exist.
When the polar vortex hit America in January 2019, President Donald J. Trump tweeted, “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded...People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with global warming?”
In the same tweet, President Trump joked about it and pleaded for global warming to “... come back fast, we need you!”
Unfortunately, climate change is not a joke, nor a condition made from the imaginations of bored scientists.
Environmental science teacher and SB Earth advisor, Mrs. Rothfuss said, “Climate change is not something you believe in. It’s proved to exist by science, and the evidence is all out there. Just take a look at the climate change report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Or look at the increase in the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, and especially the increase in global temperature and sea levels. It’s all proof that climate change is happening and we need to do something about it.”
The words climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably when in reality, they are two distinct phenomena. According to NASA, global warming refers to the increase of the average temperature of the Earth which has been 1.62 °F since the late 19th century.
On the other hand, climate change has a broader definition. It includes the increase of temperature in addition to other events, such as increase in sea levels, and the change in ecosystems which affects animals and plants. Climate change also involves extreme weather events.
English teacher, Ms. Marisol Ciccone, recounted her recent visit to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. The island is still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“I saw a lot of destruction...a lot of businesses abandoned...a lot of homeless people. [Hurricane Maria] impacted their agriculture and their way of life. I was devastated to see so much of a town [that] I once knew was changed...For the smaller towns on the side of the island that got hit, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to get back to the beauty that once was there.”
Hurricane Florence in North and South Carolina along with Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana broke records for the largest rainfall events which took place in the last two years. For the United States, models project a 45-87 percent increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes due to a combination of an increase in sea temperatures and a rise in sea levels.
Not only will it take years to recover for the affected regions, but the financial burden is a price the world will have to pay.
However, climate change is not just seen in major weather events, but through something simple, like allergies. A rise in temperature is causing plants to release more pollen at an increased rate.
According to Rutgers University Center of Environmental Prediction, Leonard Bielory, “In general, the longer you’re exposed to an allergen, the more likely you are going to be sensitized to that allergen. People who have pollen allergies may experience intensified symptoms, and people who don’t normally have pollen allergies may start to.”
With such dire warnings for not only America, but also the world, what is our government doing to help?
In fact, the action that has been taken during the Trump administration is causing more damage than good.
As of last year, Trump has not even put climate change on the White House website while it previously was on the website under the Obama presidency. In addition, Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which sends a negative message internationally, and leaves America behind in actions other countries are taking.
Recently, a wing of the Democratic Party introduced the Green New Deal. There are many parts of it, but it highlights the importance of energy efficiency and introducing renewable energy and low-emission transportation. It is unlikely that this piece of legislation will get passed in the current administration.
This is why students are taking matters into their own hands. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg is a climate change activist, and has been skipping school every Friday to protest in Sweden. She has been nominated for a Nobel Prize, traveled all over Europe to speak up against climate change, and founded the Youth Strike for Climate movement.
Sophomore Fareen Siddiqui said, “[Climate change] is real and it’s so important to take action especially if people in power aren’t listening to this problem. The movement Thunberg started shows that we can make an impact too, and it’s our future that we’re fighting for, so it’s amazing students are getting involved.”
The march conducted on March 14 was the first effort taken globally by teenagers to convince world leaders to take action. According to CNN, there were a total of 2,052 events in 123 countries including the United States. With over 1.4 million young adults who took part in the first march, Greta Thunberg called for youth around the world to join her once again on May 24.
In the speech Thunberg delivered at the Houses of Parliament she said, “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late. And yet we are the lucky ones. Those who will be affected the hardest are already suffering the consequences. But their voices are not heard.”
Here at the high school, the SBHS Earth club addresses climate change in its meetings through discussions of issues that either cause climate change or are affected by it. Senior Claire Chiang, who is president of the Earth club noted a few ways students can take action in their everyday lives.
“I think that it's great that students are taking a stand… and there are many ways to help locally. Something as simple as saving leftovers can make a lasting difference when it comes to the issue of food waste. Additionally, something probably said much but never actually done is recycling or just the use of less plastic. Simply not using straws for your drinks goes a long way, or using a reusable water bottle. A harder method would be creating some changes in your diet by eating healthier. Meat products, especially beef, are big contributors to climate change, and there are many alternatives to meat now.”
Mrs. Rothfuss, also advisor for SBHS’s Earth Club, praised the students for taking a stand to convince world leaders to take action.
Mrs. Rothfuss said, “Think of social movements as an exponential growth graph. Whenever a progressive idea is introduced, like gun control and action against climate change, there’s a lot of pushback so the graph moves really slowly at first. However once there’s that spark, the graph spikes towards change. That’s how I view these protests because although it seems useless right now, I believe one day we will reach a point where government officials will be forced to listen.”