To learn more about Generation Progress’s campaign to Get The Facts Out on climate change, go to getthefactsout.com.
Growing up in Northern California, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the environment. From going to beaches, mountains, and redwood forests for school trips or family vacations to helping my mother tend to our gardens to walking around the neighborhood picking fruit off of trees, nature was a consistent setting in my upbringing.
After moving to Washington, D.C. to pursue environmental studies in college, the distance helped me to see more acutely how climate change is impacting the place I grew up: lengthy droughts and subsequent water restrictions due to higher temperatures, increases in the occurrence and severity of wildfires, growing numbers of days of poor air quality in the summer, sea level rise—the list goes on. To me, the science of climate change is a no-brainer. From a young age, I understood the complex relationship between people and our planet and knew that our actions directly impact the world we live in. Even our smallest actions have serious, long-term ramifications when compounded.
While the Earth’s climate has warmed and cooled over the course of its history, the current pattern of warming is a result of human activity that began in the mid-20th century. It is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, which include oil, gas (including natural gas), and coal. This excessive consumption of fossil fuels has led to an increase in greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide (CO2), which trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. An increase in carbon dioxide means an increase in Earth’s temperature, fueling more extreme weather events and the issues mentioned above that many places are experiencing right now. In fact, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher today than it has been at any other point in the last 800,000 years. The planet’s temperature has already increased by 1 degree C, or 1.7 degrees F. This may not seem significant, but scientists say that this accumulated heat can drive extreme weather, heavy rain, and alter the habitats of plants and animals.
And it’s getting worse. The past five years have been the hottest on record, with 2019 being the second hottest year in the climate record (2016 was number one). Around the world, temperatures are rising and different places are experiencing volatile increases and decreases in precipitation, all while weather is becoming more extreme. In June 2020, a town north of the Arctic Circle named Verkhoyansk—one of the coldest places on Earth—reached a whopping 100.4 degrees, in a heat wave that’s sweeping the region.
But it’s not just faraway places like the Arctic Circle being impacted. It’s happening in places around our country and in our own backyards. It is no accident that Black people, Indigenous people, and communities of color are on the frontlines and are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. For example: Black people in the United States are three times more likely to die from exposure to air pollution as a result of polluting landfills and other industrial sites being placed in our communities. These communities bear the greatest burdens of the climate crisis because of our country’s history of racist policy decisions, systemic racism, and environmental injustice and means they are more likely to be vulnerable to climate change and tend to face it with the fewest resources to prepare for and recover.
Scientists overwhelmingly agree that the impact of humans, primarily through the polluting actions of major corporations, on the climate is undeniable, but there are still many people who deny that climate change is happening and that human activity is its primary driver. Disconcertingly, some of these people hold positions of immense power, including Congressional office.
Denial of climate change is extremely dangerous and actively harms both people and the planet we live on. Studies show that if we don’t do anything to fight climate change, it will cost the United States economy $224 billion by 2090. Other studies show that we have just thirty years to take action to avoid the harshest consequences of climate change, before we are locked into irreversible and unimaginable dangers. At a time where we need our elected officials, business leaders, and neighbors to take a stand and implement policies to solve this issue, we are seeing too many of our leaders sticking their heads in the sand and denying the facts.
However, on June 30, 2020, the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis released its ambitious Climate Crisis Action Plan, which details a roadmap for Congress in creating future climate action legislation. It boldly seeks to lower the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by the year 2050. It also advocates for the transition to a clean economy—one that provides good, high-paying jobs for Americans in clean energy, manufacturing, transportation, and many other sectors. This is a bold step in the right direction by some Members of Congress. Our representatives are elected to represent the voice of their constituents, and we the constituents are demanding urgent action on climate change.
In response to elected officials ignoring and denying the climate crisis, young people all over the world have taken matters into their own hands and are leading the charge to fight climate change. Millennials and members of Generation Z are the generations that stand to be the most impacted by this crisis if climate change continues unabated. A changing climate impacts the choices we make about our lives and our futures. It informs whether and how we start families. It affects our health and where we choose to or are even able to live. Young people believe in climate action that confronts racial, economic, and environmental injustice. Over the past several years, young people have marched, spoken out, and even left school to demonstrate how seriously they take this crisis. In fact, in September 2019, young people led and participated in strikes and protests that at least six million individuals participated in across the globe.
It doesn’t take growing up in a place like California to believe that climate change is real and happening. Denial may be easier right now, but it will ultimately make the problem that much worse. It’s time for our elected officials to listen to the young people they serve, acknowledge the science behind climate change, and take bold action to solve this crisis.