The last couple of months have been huge wins for Planet Earth. In August, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, which will lead to a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 recently declared her opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline. In China, President Xi Jinping announced last Friday that the country would begin an emissions trading program in 2017. Companies are also rising to the occasion: Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens and many others have committed to transitioning their businesses to 100 percent renewable energy. Even Shell has taken the hint (although most likely thanks to low oil prices) and stopped drilling in the Alaskan Arctic last week. God agrees too — Pope Francis has made climate change a talking point, following the release of his encyclical in June. The consensus is that climate change affects us all.
At Yale, most of us get the deal. As a student body we understand the basics of climate science. Excess emissions, exacerbated by a large and growing human population, are polluting and warming our planet. While debates about greenhouse gas potencies, carbon taxes, divestment, and varying timelines for action may be reserved for Fossil Free Yale, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and Science Hill commuters, overall as a student body we get the gist.
Climate change is happening, yet as people with likely 60 to 80 years on earth ahead of us, as a campus we aren’t acknowledging climate change appropriately in our conversations. We talk as if climate change is a vague, unstoppable apocalypse. It is a fixed itinerary of rising temperatures and seas, extreme and variable weather, ocean acidification, changing habitats, droughts, natural disasters, food shortages and mass extinctions. These conversations always take on a tone of bleak acknowledgement. In a feature for the News (“We Are Terrified,” Oct. 12, 2014), Adam Goff ’15 said, “Let’s say I care about climate change, what does one do about it?”
Many on campus can relate to Goff’s sentiment. Students at Yale know climate change is a problem but lack an understanding of feasible solutions. The first major shift in public discourse about climate change came with widespread acceptance of the science. But now the conversation must shift again. This time, we must concentrate on solutions.
Climate change is the greatest collective challenge facing future generations and our own. It affects every inhabitant of earth, and it will require a collaborative effort to be mitigated successfully. Yale students today will become the nonprofit, business and policy leaders of tomorrow. Our campus conversations must advance beyond the basic acknowledgement of climate change and actively focus on what can be done about it.
So let’s start talking about tomorrow, today. Let’s talk about residential solar panels that can be installed with no upfront costs, energy efficiency retrofits that pay for themselves in utility savings and offshore wind projects currently underway. Let’s talk about the wetland and floodwall investments required to mitigate 100-year storms, and solar-powered desalination plants that can combat drought. Let’s talk about electric vehicles with a cruising range of 250 miles, and let’s emphasize the importance of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. And let’s talk about energy storage, carbon pricing policies and investments in technological innovation that still need to happen. There is no time to waste. Now is the time to educate ourselves about solutions, and shift climate change conversations from apocalyptic abstractions to concrete action.
Mimi Reichenbach is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .