Climate crisis not a game

This summer, tornadoes ravaged the Midwest while hurricanes pounded the coasts. These storms are becoming more severe and frequent than they were in the past because of warmer temperatures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the effects of the climate crisis we are experiencing in North America are less severe than the effects experienced in other parts of the world, because for a short period of time aerosols will negate part of the impact of warming in our part of the world. This means that while this summer’s storm season was vivid for us, it was nothing compared to the weather we might experience in the future. The effects of the climate crisis that we have experienced are also milder than many of the effects currently experienced around the world, which include droughts and flooding in some of the world’s poorest areas.

Though many factors contribute to increased temperatures, human activity is without a doubt a main factor in the warming. In its 1997 Special Report on the Regional Impacts of Climate Change (a report released, astonishingly, more than 10 years ago), the IPCC made it clear that “human activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use and land cover) are increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, which alter radiative balances and tend to warm the atmosphere.” A majority of scientists and an increasing percentage of the population have come to accept the truth: We are in the midst of a climate crisis that we must mitigate.

In the midst of an economic meltdown and a flawed health care system, it might seem easy to brush the climate crisis aside. But effects of the climate crisis will exacerbate these problems significantly and also cause immense suffering resulting from natural disasters, starvation and water shortages. The longer we continue to emit greenhouse gases, the more suffering our actions will cause. And the longer we fail to make substantive changes, the less ability we have to mitigate the crisis.

The next president must address the climate crisis in a serious fashion. He must reduce greenhouse gas emissions and engage in global foreign policy initiatives aimed at reversing warming. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require tough policy, but it is necessary for a stable future.

Washington University must also do its part to prevent the climate crisis. Superficial displays of token environmentalism, such as building merely one of many new buildings to the LEED gold standards but not including the building’s parking garage in that calculation, do not count as serious attempts to prevent climate change. Though Washington University hired Matt Malten as assistant vice chancellor for campus sustainability, the University has provided no evidence that this was more than a political move to create the appearance of environmental concern. According to reports from the University administration, Malten has spent the past year gathering data that is to help him create a plan for sustainability at the University. But either Malten is not serious about change or the University has not fully supported him in his efforts—he still has not released the promised plan.

The University’s attempts at sustainability parallel the United States’ half-hearted efforts to combat climate change by discussing the issue with other countries while refusing to make substantive changes. Both the University and the United States government need to take the climate crisis seriously, eliminate token gestures toward sustainability and implement ambitious policies in order to achieve results. The climate crisis has already affected us, and it will only cause more suffering. To Washington University and to the United States government: Stop playing with the climate crisis—we are entrusting you with our futures.

This staff editorial is the second in a four-part series featured in Student Life’s Forum section this week. Each editorial will focus on a national issue that finds its parallel on Wash. U.’s campus.

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