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Changing how we think about climate change

Published: March 12, 2010
Section: Opinions


Recently, I’ve heard buzzwords like “climate change” thrown around a lot recently. I want to change the way we talk about this issue.  I want to change how we think about this issue. People talk about climate change as an environmental issue. But that gives the wrong impression. You say “environmental issue” and it brings to mind images of long-haired hippies hugging trees and petitioning to “save the earth.” But, honestly, the earth is not my primary concern. Not that I don’t care about trees, but the earth has been around for billions of years, changing and adapting to the atomic circumstances.

So unless we resort to nuclear annihilation, it’s going to continue doing so whether or not we are happy about it. What I’m more concerned about are the human consequences to an abrupt overhaul of the environment we have grown accustomed to. Climate change is beyond an environmental issue, it deals with health, society and security.

If you care about anything, you care about climate change. If you care about public health, immigration, technology, business, race relations, gender relations, religious influence, international conflict, domestic conflict, disaster relief, poverty, gas prices, house prices, insurance prices, food prices, your living standard or your children, you care about climate change. That is because if climate change takes effect, we would see dramatic increases in flooding, drought, effects from hurricanes as well as decreases in arable land, clean water and suitable areas for human settlement.

This would cause huge food shortages, mass migrations, widespread decease, and higher levels of poverty and homelessness. And that excludes the possibilities for fatalities. Conflicts over food, water and resources would further destabilize already problematic areas. These conflicts easily spill over into the surrounding region and have effects all across the globe.  Because not only does conflict in one country or region often lead to steep declines in exports and imports that hurt the global economy, but it can also produce extremist governments and organizations that threaten international security through genocide and terrorism. You want to keep Al Queda from spreading their jihadist ideology? Eliminate poverty and get people back in schools and back to work through preventing climate change.

But I’m not here to make the moral appeal for your fellow man. You already know that line, and clearly it’s not enough. So instead, I want to speak to your self interest: that which drives what you buy, how you act and what you commit yourself to. Because climate change is not just the problem of small island nations and poor countries that won’t be able to mitigate the crisis. Climate change is our issue.

We tend to have this mindset in the United States that just because we are the only superpower (at least right now) we are above experiencing national crisis. We forget about the poverty and devastation in our own country because most of us don’t have to think about it. Katrina tried to show us otherwise. It demonstrated that we are susceptible to natural disasters and therefore would be affected by climate change just like everyone else. You can try to ignore it all you want, but climate change already is and will continue to be our problem.

It will be our problem when the price of energy skyrockets as we run out of fossil fuels. It will be our problem when people’s homes on the coasts are engulfed under water. It will be our problem when millions of displaced people try to seek refuge in our country. It will be our problem when the amount of food produced is vastly outnumbered by billions of hungry people. It will be our problem when every hurricane outmatches the defense infrastructure. It will be our problem when disease and conflict proliferate, sending governments and businesses spiraling out of control.

Prices will rise and options will drop so that more and more of your money will go towards more basic goods and necessities. So if you want to keep buying your lattes with coffee beans from Brazil out of cups made in China for under $5, you better start thinking about the choices you make and the consequences they will have on your future.