Climate Change: The Issue of a Century

Rivka Yellin ‘21, Staff Writer

On April 15, 2019, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris went up in flames. Bystanders whipped out their cameras, firefighters rushed in, and donors hurried to open their wallets. In less than two days, an astounding one billion dollars was raised to rebuild the cathedral. 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, another far more significant place is burning. Home to 1,500 different bird species, over 40,000 plant species, and approximately 2.5 million insect species, the Amazon rainforest has been on fire for months. This time, cell phones were not recording, rescuers were not racing to douse the flames, and there was no outpouring of donations. The lungs of our planet were on fire, yet the world stayed silent. 

However, on September 20th, 2019 something remarkable happened. Sixteen year old environmental activist Greta Thunberg started a revolution and across the nation people spoke up.  Thousands of students, teachers, and workers left their schools and workplaces to demand action and attention from lawmakers. The day before these walkouts took place, I saw that schools across America were preparing to take part in history, and I wanted our school to be among them. I could not sit in class when I knew I could be a part of a movement affecting an issue that I am passionate about. As a result, Rivka Krause (‘21) and I emailed administrators, and we got permission to lead a 10-minute walkout. 

While organizing this event, I found students’ reactions surprising. Some knew a lot about the issue beforehand and were eager to participate, but the majority seemed unaware of what was happening in the Amazon rainforest or any of the movements taking place across the globe. The most that students seemed to know had come from the #savetheturtle movement adopted by the ‘VSCO’ girl.  To most, it was a trendy hashtag that would make for a cute snapchat post. I was thrilled to be able to educate my peers. 

However, I was troubled by the approach that some students had to the walkout––a political one. They saw the walkout and climate change movement as partisan, an expression of  a leftist agenda. This mindset began in 1997, when Bill Clinton’s vice president Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol, making this the first time climate change policy was truly addressed by the government. But big lobbyists fought back, and climate change came to be associated with the left, polarizing the debate. Had it not been turned into a wedge issue, climate change might have already been addressed by both Democrats and Republicans. However, the Republican Party chose to ignore the issues in favor of big donors and lobbyists, and the Democratic Party continued to widen the divide by selling climate policies as a leftist belief. But we cannot afford to spend time debating this issue as a matter of politics. The climate does not discriminate. By 2040, the Arctic region may be completely ice-free. Millions of species face extinction as a result of disappearing habitats, acidifying oceans and changing ecosystems. We must ask ourselves— will we sit back and watch our earth be destroyed by fossil fuels, carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, or will we take a stand?