Considering the heated presidential campaigning that has been raging full force recently, it’s no wonder that one of the nation’s cable channels has been breaking ratings records lately. What may come as a surprise, however, is that it’s not Fox News or CNN that’s been enjoying skyrocketing viewership — it’s the Weather Channel. According to the Associated Press, the Weather Channel’s third-quarter ratings this year were 43 percent higher than in 2003, a spike that’s attributed to the unusually severe hurricane season this fall.
Five major storm systems in the span of six weeks may be a windfall for TV ratings, but for those affected directly by the storms, it’s a different matter entirely, with a death toll topping 140 in the United States alone. Scientists debate the strength of the correlation between global warming and this year’s hurricane season, but the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction reports that over 150,000 people die every year from the adverse effects of global warming, which include intensified storm surges and floods resulting from higher sea levels. Even the Bush White House, notorious for its lackluster environmental record, has acknowledged that global warming is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Global warming deserves particular attention from the United States. We’re currently responsible for about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making our nation a major culprit in the trend of global warming. However, President Bush has done little to improve our nation’s oil-dependent energy policy. His Clear Skies program, for example, weakens the protections provided by our current Clean Air Act; in fact, according to the projections of the Environmental Protection Agency, the plan would actually increase the amount of coal power companies burn by 79 million tons over the next two decades.
Our government spends billions of dollars yearly subsidizing coal, oil, and nuclear energy industries — and it shows. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over 90 percent of the electricity produced in the United States comes from fossil fuels and uranium. By comparison, government support for viable clean energy sources such as solar and wind power is lamentably disproportionate. Environmental concerns aside, the rising price of oil — and our continued dependence on it — burdens working Americans and leads to economic stagnation. Investing in clean energy sources will lessen our dependence on foreign oil (we currently consume a full 25 percent of the world’s diminishing oil supply) and help fuel the economy (pun intended) by creating new jobs.
Our own university, like its alumnus, President Bush, is party to the national addiction to dirty energy. Not only does Yale get the majority of its power from fossil fuels, but its inefficient buildings consume an astronomical 722 million kilowatt-hours. Compare that to the energy efficiency at Stanford, which consumes 43 percent less kilowatt-hours than Yale despite having a student body 30 percent larger than ours. Last year, the Yale Climate Initiative, a project run by students at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, developed a series of recommendations to improve Yale’s energy efficiency. Yale recently created an energy task force, a commendable first step in addressing the issue, but it’s important that we encourage the university to continue its efforts. A more efficient university energy policy could save money, save energy and help Yale become a leader in the movement to national independence from dirty energy.
In a world in which wind power is the world’s fastest-growing source of energy, the Kyoto Protocol is fast becoming a reality, and the rest of the industrialized world is looking to clean energy alternatives, our generation must step up and address the issue of our reliance on dirty energy. Energy Action, a coalition of 17 student environmental and progressive networks across North America, is declaring Oct. 19 Energy Independence Day. Hundreds of campuses nationwide will be participating in this landmark day of action, which takes place just two weeks before our national elections. At the core of the action is the signing of a Declaration of Independence from Dirty Energy, in which the youth of the United States challenge all candidates for elected office and the leaders of our institutions to establish a plan for a complete transition beyond dirty energy. Sign on to the declaration at www.energyaction.net and make your voice heard. If we don’t take important steps to improve our nation’s energy policies now, our generation will pay the price.
Ann Marie Gaul is a sophomore in Davenport College. She is a member of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and the Climate Campaign.