The earth’s climate has changed naturally way before the industrial revolution at a pace that gave life time to adapt. However, it is now warming at a speed we can neither adapt to nor afford. The health consequences of burning fossil fuels, coupled with extreme weather conditions that have only been made worse by changing temperatures have cost the United States around $240 billion every year for the past 10 years. However, for those in political office, this doesn’t seem to be costly enough. It is essential that we increase the costs of not implementing green policies for government officials. But the responsibility isn’t only with our elected officials. We must also hold ourselves accountable. As citizens and consumers, we must push for climate change policies in any way we can.
Much more extreme than a snowstorm in New York City this spring season: earlier this fall, three record breaking hurricanes struck the Caribbean — including U.S. territories Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands — Texas and Florida. For weeks, the front pages of newspapers would depict razed homes and people walking in riverlike streets. This, and nine wildfires, cost the United States economy $300 billion dollars, and this is not expected to be the end. Studies suggest that rises in water temperatures caused by climate change affect the intensity of hurricanes, which have become more active in the North Atlantic since the 1970’s. As for fossil fuel use, cost extends to “public and private health expenditures, military budgets, emergency relief funds and the degradation of sensitive ecosystems,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The cost of extensive animal agriculture is also great, due to the quantity of resources such as land and water that go into production and the pollutants that are released in the process of raising farm animals.
However, the Trump administration retreated from the Paris Climate Agreement in June 2017. As rational actors, they wouldn’t have pulled out of this significant agreement if they felt it would threaten their chances of re-election; a threat we can pose. Even if citizens supported the Paris Agreement with their voices, they do not do so with their actions because they benefit from policies that damage the environment. The U.S.’s exit from the Paris Agreement and the subsequent public action is unfortunately not a surprise. Constituents reap the benefits of intense industrialization and agriculture, animal exploitation and fossil fuel extraction. As consumers, they get cheap clothing, cheap food, cheap air travel and the ability to move along the road if they have a car and a full tank of gas. However, as inhabitants of the earth, we all suffer from the cost of a less stable planet.
Action regarding climate change is necessary, and even if some loudly argue that it is a myth, many Americans in the United States don’t doubt that it’s true. However, policies to combat climate change will only occur when politicians feel that their jobs depend on it, and their jobs will only depend on it when their constituents make clear their preferences with their votes, political participation and consumption patterns. To change policies, it is necessary to change our social behavior and interactions. Voting, rallying, petitioning and educating are crucial, but the threat is significantly more real when citizens act on their word: eating more sustainable food, minimizing extreme clothing acquisition and using cleaner means of transport. At NYU, there are alternatives for students who want to become more involved in affecting positive environmental change through clubs such as EcoReps and NYU Divest. Whether it is at NYU or across the country, citizens can develop a stance that goes beyond empty words and may succeed in enforcing change.
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Email Ignangeli Salinas-Muñiz at [email protected].