Climate change is a little scary. But as the world reacted to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) doomsday report Oct. 8 stating climate change’s most apocalyptic effects will likely arrive as soon as 2040, I found myself more hopeful than ever.
To be fair, my cheery attitude in the face of predicted food shortages, wildfires, droughts and flooded coastlines is at least partly due to the fact that I’m from Minnesota, which — as my father likes to joke — will soon be tropical, beach-front property if warming trends continue. This lighthearted response to a troubling situation provides some much-needed humor, but it also hints at the reality that climate change is both a global and local issue.
Natural disasters, for example, can strike anywhere. With hurricanes and forest fires becoming more common and dangerous here in the U.S., climate change is quickly becoming tangible and terrifying to a wider demographic of Americans than just the tree-huggers.
On the other hand, it’s countries like Bangladesh and the Solomon Islands that will bear the brunt of the pain. Areas of the world where poverty and famine are already a part of everyday life are more vulnerable to widespread devastation from our warming planet. Global warming, true to its name, is a problem of international significance, but we will also feel it at the local level.
Acknowledging my climate privilege, I think it’s still safe to say that my hopeful attitude seemed out of place these past few weeks.
I’m not choosing to ignore the gravity of our situation — I’ve heard the gloomy tales of lost heritage sites and rising beer prices, among countless other dire predictions. It’s not that I’m confident governments around the world will take the immediate and powerful action needed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I know that the odds of lowering greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to stave off increasing temperatures are low. Despite this, I believe that as young people, we have both the unique opportunity and motivation to come up with creative solutions and design a more sustainable future.
We need innovation, and we need it as soon as possible. Whether it be new technological advancements, agricultural practices, political movements, economic policies or consumer habits, college students of every academic discipline are uniquely situated to make a significant change in today’s world. If smart and creative young people design a sustainable future, we’ll have a fighting chance at avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
I don’t want to be too optimistic. We haven’t solved any problems yet, but we have the potential to be a generation of changemakers. The world needs its next Norman Borlaug, and it could be any one of us.
Young people have the specific motivation to address this issue that older generations don’t. We’re going to be the ones who will have to live with the vast consequences of climate change. While it’s easy to think of climate change as an issue for the next generation, 2040 is well within our lifetimes. This is no longer an issue we should care about on behalf of our children — we have to look out for our own self-interests now.
The good news is that the benefits of sustainable innovation aren’t just limited to creating a future free from climate chaos, though that’s a pretty noble goal on its own. Often there are economic and social improvements associated with sustainable change. For example, farming practices that cultivate healthier soil can mitigate the effects of climate change while also increasing food production, which in turn helps diminish hunger and malnutrition. If we dedicate ourselves to buying from sustainable companies, voting for candidates who prioritize clean energy policies and using creative legal action, we’ll create a better world along the way. Fighting climate change is a way of preserving our future, but it benefits us right now, too.
There’s more good news: we don’t have to start from scratch. People around the world, on both the local and global scale, are already using their individual skills to fight climate change. Everything from coral mating to roof painting can have an impact. We have a responsibility to our future selves to continue building on the current progress. It’s human nature to try even when the odds aren’t in our favor, and history should give us at least a little confidence that we are capable of solving problems that once seemed insurmountable. We love to root for the underdogs. Whether it’s the civil rights movement or the Revolutionary War, we know that underdogs can defy the odds to make systemic change.
We can become paralyzed and pessimistic about the world’s future, or we can put our minds together and actively work for the future we want. The IPCC’s report paints a picture of what our world will look like if we don’t change our ways, but I’m not ready to accept that dismal fate.
I’ve made my decision, and I’ll see the rest of you at the polls and the compost bins all the way to 2040.
Kayla Heinze is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.