KOMARAGIRI: We must act against critical threat of climate change


Opinion Column: Bleeding Heart

It is the place of the privileged to be apathetic in times of crisis. Jonathan Franzen plays this role perfectly. 

In his Sept. 8 piece for The New Yorker, "What if We Stopped Pretending," he argued that our climate has reached a point of no return and there is no reason to keep fighting. 

The reality is that this does make some sense. 

Global temperatures have risen to unprecedented rates. Emissions are projected to continue increasing, and to avoid the 1.5 Celsius temperature threshold determined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we will need emissions to drop 45% by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. 

Our current government has clearly indicated that climate is not a priority, and at a time when meeting these lofty goals means a radical reconstruction of energy infrastructure and economic systems, this is a death sentence. What is more, we have already seen the devastating environmental effects of climate change on communities across the country. 

Given the hopelessness of the situation, one may be tempted to drift into the lazy lull of Franzen’s world. Here, we may recycle enough soda cans and participate in enough meatless Mondays to delay the apocalypse a few years, or at least keep rich white writers safe. But I do not live in Franzen’s world, and neither do most Americans. 

In our world, people fight back. 

I was fortunate enough to attend activist Greta Thunberg’s first public appearance since her two-week sailing voyage from Britain to New York City. The event, sponsored by the New York Society for Ethical Culture and The Intercept, was hosted by one of our own distinguished faculty, Naomi Klein. 

Thunberg is a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden known for starting a movement of school strikes that have since spread across the world. So far, there have been 2,000 protests across 125 countries and 1.6 million participants. She has given speeches at the United Nations, World Economic Forum and at various protests against the inactivity of global leaders like our President Donald J. Trump. 

The climax of the night came with a firsthand account of the struggles in the Amazon by indigenous leader and Vice President of Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA), Tuntian Katak. Katak’s impassioned speech was a harrowing report of the state of his homeland. 

During a moment in which even his translator was choked up with emotion, Katak screamed into the crowd: “We are giving our lives to protect the future of this planet! The corporations are destroying us ... the rivers are being contaminated, the oceans have garbage and the land unsustainable.” Aside from the courage and dignity with which Katak delivered this account, his speech served as a haunting reminder that the destruction of our Earth is calculated. 

Whether it is the burning of the Amazon rainforest, the polluting of our oceans or the smog in our air, such tragedies are reflections of corporate greed run amok. We have forgotten that this is a war. The crisis we see ourselves faced with today is the result of human decisions, and 70% of emissions are produced by just 100 companies. 

Environmental protections have weakened under the policies of fascists like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and our government has no intention to join a global effort to reverse this damage. 

Climate change, and the indifference of those like Franzen, represent a global elite that would rather preserve their power and watch us die than let us collectively build a progressive future. This disproportionately affects people of color and poor communities, as white populations consume the most, leaving the burden of unclean air and water to fall on the shoulders of those already marginalized. 

Overwhelmingly, natural disasters precipitated by climate change hit poor communities in the global south harder than anywhere else. Communities that are also less equipped for recovery. 

This is a theft, it is an attack and it is an infringement on the property rights of all global citizens: Our right to a livable Earth. 

What we need now is a broad coalition of people willing to stand up and demonstrate that we cannot continue business as usual. Policies exist that can mitigate these disasters but will require significant social and political will. The Green New Deal can be our reality and will not come about without our anger. 

The Global Climate Strike is this Friday, and Rutgers students and faculty will be meeting at 2:30 p.m. at Voorhees Hall on the College Avenue campus to march to Rep. Frank Pallone’s (D-N.J.) office. The march will end with the delivery of a letter of demands to Pallone, who is the House Energy and Commerce Committee chair. 

To give up hope is to allow those that have burned our future for profit to rest undisturbed. Our hatred is pure and our cause is righteous. We have to be willing to fight. 

Veenay Komaragiri is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts  and Sciences senior majoring in business analytics and information  technology. His column, “Bleeding Heart,” typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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