The most important negotiations in the world start on Monday in Copenhagen. At stake is no less than the future of our planet’s climate. International delegates will gather for two weeks in Copenhagen at the United Nation’s 15th Congress of the Parties, COP15, to discuss how we can prevent catastrophic climate change.
Yet if you’ve been paying attention to the press lately, you might be under the impression that climate change isn’t even happening. Recently, someone hacked into a computer server at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Climate change skeptics have been a field day with what was found: thousands of e-mails between scientists that contain everything from how to make graphs show more obvious warming to unprofessional comments about fellow researchers. Many are arguing that these e-mails prove that climate scientists have been colluding for years and that global climate change is all a big hoax.
As an environmentalist, I wish their claims were true. But they’re not.
There are so many other pressing environmental issues out there to solve that discovering that climate change isn’t happening would be the best news an environmentalist could hear. We’d love to move on and focus our full attention on neglected issues like endocrine disrupters in plastics, toxic algal blooms in our oceans or lead in our drinking water. But our climate remains the biggest issue out there because the scientists in East Anglia aren’t the world’s only climate scientists. The top international scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nation’s committee on climate change, agreed in their latest report that the evidence in favor of human caused global climate change was overwhelming and that we needed to act immediately to stave off its worst effects.
The IPCC report came out in 2007 and their research has been corroborated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Global Historic Climatology Network and the International Research Institute for Climate Predicition at Columbia University. Yet, two years later we are still debating whether climate change is even an issue. This December was supposed to be the time to do more than shake hands and agree that there’s a problem — this was supposed the time to finally get it right. Yet, our world leaders have decided to delay signing any binding commitments once again. In November, Obama and others held hands and agreed to essentially nothing at this year’s negotiations. Is it just too inconvenient to take responsibility right now?
Well, it can’t be because the small inconveniences we face by taking action today pale in comparison to the great hardships we’ll face tomorrow if we do nothing. We’re not talking about starving polar bears and homeless penguins here; we’re talking about starving farmers who can’t grow crops because their farms have become deserts and homeless refugees who’ve had their homes washed away by the rising seas. But we have the power to take control ourselves before things get even worse. It might not be easy, but we can do it.
But we need for someone to step forward and motivate people. We need to do the right thing as opposed to just saying it. We need someone like Jimmy Carter who isn’t afraid to wear a sweater on national television and tell people to turn their heat down so that in 50 years the winters will still be cold enough that we want to wear sweaters.
It may seem difficult to motivate people to protect the future, but that’s what your parents’ did every time that they made you wear your seat belt. They protected you and allowed you to have the bright future that you’re living today. We need to take the same approach when it comes to protecting the climate of our children’s future. We need to be proactive.
Global climate change is everyone’s problem and everyone can be part of the solution. We can shut the window in January, we can turn off the light when we go out and we can turn down the heat and put on sweater like Jimmy Carter did. In turn, our leaders can take real action by doing the inconvenient, but absolutely necessary — committing to climate goals that are more than mere rhetoric.
Lily Twining is a junior in Pierson College and a co-chair of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition.