I recently had the chance to attend the “Climate and Environmental (In)Justice in the Age of Trump” lecture on Jan. 18 in Corwin Pavilion. The topic that most caught my attention was the concept of “sacrifice zones” brought up by Emily Williams. I had never heard this exact term before — which is surprising as an environmental studies major — but its meaning has been stuck in my head ever since. Sacrifice sounds scary. Sacrifice sounds like something you do when you did something wrong and want to make it right again. What did we, as a global community, do wrong to warrant such an extreme reaction?
Oftentimes, marginalized people who are too poor to relocate and have minimal representation in climate discussions are ignored completely.
Sacrifice zones are regions where the physical impacts of climate change will and are completely altering the area and, in some cases, destroying the land completely. Oftentimes, marginalized people who are too poor to relocate and have minimal representation in climate discussions are ignored completely.
This makes me absolutely livid. What did these people do wrong that has caused them to surrender their land? What did they do to reap the sheer devastating consequences of our over-consumption?
Despite hundreds of scientific papers and the staggering 97 percent of the scientific community which is in agreement that climate change is real and caused by humans, it unfortunately is still an abstract concept to many people in the United States. I oftentimes find myself enraged, heartbroken and utterly befuddled when someone tells me they do not believe in climate change or that they simply do not care.
Regardless of your personal beliefs about climate change and its culprits, we must start dealing with its effects. Sea levels are indeed rising, global temperatures are changing and natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency. How we deal with these consequences — not only as a global community, but also as the ones responsible for causing the problem — is going to be key. So, what are we actually going to do?
A start would be to actually listen to the people who live in sacrifice zones. While they did not make the mess of pollution that is changing the planet, they should be a part of the solutions proposed. We must develop relationships with these countries and people that can facilitate change and ingenuity to develop creative and practical solutions for them.
Additionally, with sacrifice zones increasing in size, there will be more and more people in the future who will be climate refugees. In an era of Trump-ism, refugees are not being welcomed into the United States. As a country that has built its foundation and power on fossil fuels, we must take responsibility and open our doors to those who have sacrificed their homes and livelihoods for our growth.
Finally, it is time for the United States to step up. We are still consuming fossil fuels at an ungodly rate and have done little to develop renewable energies. We have billions of dollars invested in fossil fuels that we plan on burning in the future, regardless of how it alters the planet. We claim we are committed to a green future, but if you follow the money trail, it seems to paint different picture. As students and people, we must stand up to an industry that is quite literally killing people as we speak by demanding divestment from fossil fuels and limiting our own consumption of these finite resources.
The act of choosing not to care about climate change and how it affects others is a luxury Americans often overlook. How nice is it to keep our lights on in our houses because we can afford to do so, drive our gas-guzzling cars to work when it rains and turn on our air conditioning when it’s too hot to go outside? When did we stop caring about human beings, especially the ones who are paying for our climate debt as we speak?
The act of choosing not to care about climate change and how it affects others is a luxury Americans often overlook.
I reject the notion that some people are superior to others, but as a person who has undoubtedly benefitted from a country that imports oil and exports pollution, I find myself feeling guilty. However, upon reflection, I do not believe guilt is the right feeling. Yes, as citizens of a first-world country that consumes by far the most fossil fuels per capita, we must first acknowledge that WE are the problem. We can certainly do better, and we can certainly do more. We should feel an obligation to do so: an obligation to care, to think critically, to ask questions, to speak out, to fight for justice for the martyrs of climate change and for ourselves.
We do not have the luxury to turn our heads away from climate change just as the ones who came before us did. As members of a generation that will all face the physical impacts of climate change, it is our duty as global citizens and human beings to speak out and give a damn.
Claire Wilson wants you to get out and make a difference.