COMMENTARY: We must act on climate change: No one will be spared from destructive effects

Last spring in my climate change policy course, I was assigned to interview someone who was skeptical of — or rather did not believe in — climate change. Someone introduced me to their family member, David, who was a finance undergraduate at the University of Michigan and who claimed to not believe in the science of climate change. 

He said he was skeptical for two reasons: he was not a scientist and did not understand the science of climate change, thus he had difficulty believing it, and even if climate change did exist, it did not affect him, so he did not care. 

The second reason intrigued me because as we spoke, Michigan and the Midwest were experiencing the worst records of snow and extreme weather in years. 

“All of this crazy weather that’s making schools cancel classes is not affecting you?” I asked in disbelief. He shrugged and said that while it was an inconvenience, his way of life remained unchanged. He still had his car that worked, his warm bed to sleep in and his school’s cafeteria to eat a healthy meal. 

“If it starts really affecting me, maybe I will start recycling more or something," he said just before we ended the call.

Lately I have been thinking about how often I have heard this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality in regard to the impacts of climate change, extreme weather or health incidents — especially among college students. 

Most students are so focused on studies and work that they take for granted having easy access to basic necessities like warm housing or clean water, while communities throughout the world lack such necessities due to factors like poor infrastructure or high poverty levels. 

One of the most recent local examples is the water crisis in Newark. Infrastructure dating back to the 1880s, poor addresses to corrosive water treatment regulations, lost records of treatment practices and slow plans of city action have resulted in 15,000 homes being fed lead-contaminated water from their pipelines. High blood lead levels are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children due to lead’s damaging impacts on fetal and brain development.   

Communities with higher poverty levels often have poorer infrastructure and are more vulnerable to climate change. This past summer, India experienced its hottest and longest heat wave in decades, killing at least 36 people. Our most recent hurricane, Hurricane Dorian, has killed 50 people and led to 2,500 people reported missing, along with tens of thousands in need of aid

Due to rising sea levels, Marshall Islands residents have to decide on whether they should relocate or artificially elevate their island, a dilemma that many island and coastal communities must face. 

This is not fair. 

No community, regardless of socioeconomic status, nationality, religion, etc., should be so unequally vulnerable to the effects of climate change as compared to other parts of the world. No community should be left to fend off the impacts of climate change on their own. We need to stop with the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and support all communities in becoming more resilient in the face of what is ahead. 

This is why I have joined the Central Jersey Climate Coalition (CJCC) and why I am marching this Friday as a part of the Global Climate Strike. Millions of people all around the world will march this Friday demanding for local, national and international movements to create a more sustainable and equitable world. 

The CJCC will be holding its rally in Voorhees Hall at 2:30 p.m., and then we will march to Rep. Frank Pallone’s (D-N.J.) office demanding immediate and serious climate action from both Rutgers University and Pallone. If you would like to join the strike or attend our Climate Action Week events during the following week, more information can be found on the CJCC Facebook page. 

This Friday, we are striking to ensure better futures for our fellow friends, students and community members — and we hope to see you there. 

 

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