FOR me, it is still a vivid memory – sitting on my living room couch in the summer of 2018, taking in the news coverage of the California wildfires that ravaged the West Coast.
I watched as the bright orange conflagration scorched everything in its path. I watched as firefighters desperately tried to tame the fire. And I watched as terrified people ran from their crumbling houses, covering their faces to avoid inhaling the smoke.
It’s a scene that I’ll never forget – a living image of how climate change is a real and present danger, and how we can’t keep denying it anymore.
The fact is, young people have been waiting for decades for bold climate legislation that puts our future first.
We’ve been waiting ever since 1990, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its First Assessment Report that temperatures rose from 0.3 degrees Celsius to 0.6 C over the last century.
We’ve been waiting since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people, caused $81bil in damage and rang up $160bil in costs. We’ve been waiting ever since as wildfires have ravaged California and floods have submerged cities in water. We’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity, yet with minimal progress.
That’s why on Wednesday, Jan 27,2021, I nearly cried tears of joy as President Joe Biden signed a multitude of executive actions to take on climate change. For the first time, it felt like my voice was being heard. For the first time, it felt like we had won something tangible, something we could count as a win and build on.
These actions encompass three main things. The first is the need to actively combat climate change and avert the major catastrophes that could arise if no action is taken.
The second is to address the impact on labor and the economy. One of the biggest concerns people have with transitioning away from fossil fuel is the loss of jobs. The executive actions counter this by creating a Civilian Climate Corps that will produce jobs but also help build a sustainable economy.
The third is addressing environmental justice. Climate change intersects with many other issues, including racial and social justice. Biden addresses this by committing to “make environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency, ” finally placing it at the center of governmental climate measures.
We must acknowledge that marginalized communities are on the front lines of this crisis; we cannot address climate change without addressing all of the other intertwined issues.
For the longest time, I had doubted whether the United States would deliver any meaningful action on climate change. Now I feel as though Biden has, at long last, pushed the nation in that direction.
But even the aggressive action President Biden is taking does not address all aspects of the climate crisis, including the need to ban fracking, shut down pipelines and declare a national “climate emergency.” We cannot take on climate change as a whole until we address the crisis in all its aspects.
The thought of what lies ahead – the turmoil, the tensions, the politics – can feel daunting. Yet I hold on to the hope that, in the face of this daunting task, our nation can move forward without looking back. Because for me, as a young climate activist, the thought of a future filled with more climate disasters and economic chaos is unbearable. — Progressive Media Project/Tribune News Service
Virginia He is a youth climate activist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who works with the Sunrise Movement and other environmental organisations.