My dad has been discussing environmental and climate issues with me since I was old enough to say the words “climate change.” For years, he has been warning me and my siblings about how political and social inaction could lead to catastrophic, irreversible climate change. As with most discussions on critical issues, it seems, he was right about this one as well. Climate change is the pressing concern of our generation.
For quite some time, we only referenced the “future” when discussing climate change. It had been an issue we sought to address at some point, but not in the most immediate of terms. Now, we know that not only will my children and grandchildren experience the effects of climate change, but we are dealing with some of the consequences at this very moment. Having ignored the warning signs for long enough, now is the time for our nation to lead on climate change by taking dramatic measures to ensure that future generations have a safe and healthy planet.
Within Jewish social justice circles, we are often reminded of the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, which means to repair the world. While we can apply such text to most – if not all – social justice issues, I believe that our moral duty to perform acts of tikkun olam most directly applies to climate change and environmental justice. We don’t have a Planet B if we destroy this one. Understanding full well that humans are primarily responsible for so much of the impact on our planet, it is on us to quite literally clean up the mess we have made.
Clear scientific evidence proves inaction would have dire consequences. In California — where I live — wildfires have become a common occurrence. When I was younger, fire season was confined to a few months out of the year, while the remaining months were mostly fire-free. However, in the last few years, fire season has become a year-long ordeal out west. For the past two years, large parts of California have even been on fire during the winter months which — until recently — were never a part of fire season.
Climate change isn’t just an issue that Californians must consider. This summer, I spent several weeks in the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming. Both states have had major issues in the past few years with the bark beetle. As you drive through the mountains, you see vast areas of trees that are all dead as a result of this beetle. Historically, cold winters in the region have limited the extent of the damage caused. However, warmer winters followed by hotter summers mean that these beetles can survive throughout the year, causing even more damage to the area’s forests. This is just one of many real-world examples of how climate change is negatively impacting our environment today.
July 2019 had been projected to be the warmest month on record, continuing a recent trend spanning the past several years. According to a UN report, we have until 2030 to dramatically reduce carbon emissions so as to prevent irreversible damage to our planet. The good news is there are a handful of solutions out there that could be implemented to curb the effects of climate change.
The most broad proposal so far is the infamous Green New Deal. Backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it is a non-binding resolution that establishes goals of transforming America’s energy and transportation infrastructure to run entirely on green, renewable energy. Another possible policy solution involves implementing carbon tax/carbon pricing. This means people pay a price or a tax on whatever carbon dioxide they use or emit.
One technology that could be implemented is carbon capture and storage, which captures carbon from the atmosphere and stores it, often underground, in a manner that ensures that it doesn’t reach the atmosphere. One valid argument against such solutions is the high cost. It’s true that big ideas are going to necessitate proper funding. However, if I were to have a choice between an expensive solution that could save much of humanity or taking no action at all, I would suggest we start pursuing such a solution
Climate change not only directly threatens the environment, it also exacerbates other global concerns as well. Climate change impacts refugee crises around the world, worsening the immigration issue. Further, a lack of resources could lead to violence and famine, both in our country and around the world. While this sounds dire, there are still actions you can take in your own life to help the planet, none of which require much work.
- Use renewable energy. Renewables have become much more affordable in recent years. Also, consider putting solar panels on your roof.
- Make your commute more green. Take public transit, ride a bike, carpool with a colleague, or drive a hybrid / electric car.
- Be wise about your energy use. Use energy efficient light bulbs, unplug computers and other electronics when they aren’t on, and hang dry your clothes whenever possible.
- Eat green. Exclude meat from meals when possible, buy organic and local, don’t waste food, and grow your own food if possible.
- This is the most important: VOTE! While your individual lifestyle changes will certainly help, the only way we can fully curb climate change is on a large scale. Vote lawmakers who doubt climate change or who have failed to take any action thus far out of office.
Ryan Biehl is a summer legislative intern and high school fellow for the Jewish Center for Justice. He will be a Senior at Beverly Hills High School in the Fall.