Everywhere you turn, it’s there.
Climate change, as little front-page attention as it receives, is what many experts agree to be the single greatest threat facing Planet Earth, and all life on it, in all its four-and-a-half billion years of existence.
Frankly, the thought of a planet — my planet — burnt to a crisp and thus completely unable to sustain any form of life terrifies me. Many times, after reading the latest reports on the exponential rate of polar ice caps melting or the extinction of an unprecedented number of species, I felt hopeless and vulnerable. These problems are too big, and the people aware enough to care are too powerless when compared to the monolith system of consumption that got us here in the first place. The world is going to hell in a handbasket and, I’m sorry future generations, there’s nothing much we can do about it. Good luck.
At first, my despair was paralyzing. Literally. I’d cower inside for hours, hiding from the precarious outside, knowing that the world as I know it could be gone in just a few years.
However, amid all the apocalyptic predictions I suddenly became distressingly aware of after watching “An Inconvenient Truth,” there was an unwavering shimmer of hope. The silver lining was small, but it was undoubtedly shining.
It came in the form of scientists saying there were other ways, that it wasn’t too late to save the planet and the precious life that calls it home. It came dressed in suits and leather loafers, drafting bills aimed at making the environment our top political priority. It came clad in organic cotton and Birkenstocks, protesting capitalism and neoliberalism at the G20 summit, riding bikes and buying local, ready to dig deep in the trenches, planting seeds of change through the sowing of home gardens.
But hope has come most powerfully, in my life, in the form of my peers.
I’m inspired by the wheeled warriors who bike up Bay Street instead of driving a car. I’m energized by students petitioning for campus initiatives that would move us toward a greener, more sustainable campus. I’m galvanized by the Coalition to Save Community Studies, which, while not directly related to the environment, stands as a testament to students who could have bowed down to the administration, but who instead are fighting tooth-and-nail to make sure the very heart of their department isn’t cut out.
We’ve been indoctrinated since the day we were born that we don’t have any power, leaving us to depend on others to make the decisions for us. These de facto policy makers, sitting in their ivory towers far removed from reality and the people on the street, have led us down a path towards economic and ecological destruction.
Slowly but surely, people are realizing they hold the most powerful weapon of all — the power of choice. Seventy percent of the population elected Barack Obama, a far cry from the usual presidential suspects, to be the leader of the free world. He has chosen, with all that’s on his colossal plate, to make the environment one of his top priorities. By appointing Stephen Chu, the focused and forward-thinking physicist from Berkeley, as his Secretary of Energy, Obama is signaling to the world that we have a problem, and we need to deal with it ASAP.
Daily, we can make choices that will enrich our lives and simultaneously protect our planet. Choosing to ride a bike, taking the bus, switching out our lightbulbs, buying local, voting for environmentally-oriented policies, electing environmentally-focused public officials, emailing Chancellor Blumenthal and demanding a comprehensive climate action plan… the list of the minor and major things we can choose to do that will, in the short and long term, save us from ourselves is endless.
Already this quarter, students are realizing what power they have inside themselves. Even more importantly, they are realizing what power they have together.
Our own power can be frightening. It can be exhilarating. But we can’t afford to sit back and watch as the world falls to pieces.