There was a time around fourth grade when I became enamored with environmentalists, naturalists, and ecologists. The most joy I ever got out of school at that point was Outdoor Education at Jones Gulch. Our humble campus was dotted with green recycling bins and decorated with the now annoyingly simple mantra, “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” It seemed everyone was doing something to fight climate change, and that every single one of us would take part in that fight even after our pledges to become naturalists faded. Now that droughts and torrential downpours have held California lawns hostage for years, we as Americans are as apathetic as ever. Many of us care, but not quite enough.
Last year, when I asked several groups of random students about what it would take for them to do something about climate change, responses became increasingly repetitive. A lot of students wouldn’t go into detail. Something extreme would have to happen: a disaster. It would have to be close to home and have a devastating effect on people in Burlingame. But seeing the perfect storm of eco-political malice and natural catastrophes that have occurred since those informal interviews, we must ask ourselves how much tragedy must occur before we take our next steps?
Hurricane Harvey, breaking records as well as the precipitation map color system, has left meteorologists with their jaws on the ground. An entire metropolis was shut down; families were left without homes; suburban havens were almost completely underwater. When people’s cars and pets were spared, they still had to keep in mind the chemical waste and electrical hazards haunting the waters that seized their homes. Harvey has claimed more than 70 lives in Houston, and Irma has taken 30 more in the Caribbean and Florida. Upon close inspection, the precedence of these storms is clear. Not only have Harvey and Irma wrought rains of Biblical proportion, but they caused an economic firestorm. Up to $180 billion in damage, skyrocketing gas prices across the country, and unapologetic price gouging has taken a toll on the U.S. economy. The mayors of both Houston and Miami, according to the Miami Herald, agree that climate change has compounded the impact of the storms. Nevertheless, we risk letting it become an isolated tragedy rather than a wake-up call.
But that’s not to say that we haven’t made progress locally. Burlingame’s Citizens Environmental Council formed as a fiduciary program from Acterra Action for a Healthy Planet, a nonprofit based in Palo Alto. It has been a sovereign nonprofit since 2016, advocating city-wide policy changes, funding scholarships for students pursuing environmental careers; and encouraging environmental science educational campaigns around the city. Additionally, the Bay Area has participated in environmental events like the September 16th International Coastal Cleanup Day. On campus, the number of environmental clubs at this school has increased from zero in 2015 to four as of 2017.
“Natural disasters are exacerbated by climate change,” Keala Uchoa, president of the new Plant-Based club said. “In fact, natural disasters of great magnitude are manifestations of climate change and should give all of us some perspective and purpose when thinking about climate change.”
Nevertheless, many of us are not making the connection between climate change and devastating natural disasters quick enough to encourage policymakers to make a change, which is evident in Houston’s infrastructural damage.
It’s time we start making changes to our carbon footprints because climate change is no longer a partisan issue. A global increase in Atlantic temperatures has compounded Harvey and Irma’s vicious winds and increased the storms’ capacities to carry rainfall for longer periods of time. This means that cities as far inland as Memphis, Tennessee are feeling the impact. We need to act as enthusiastically as we did when we were kids and with the same urgency as modern scientists. We need to advocate for change and encourage environmentally conscious policies that will lessen Mother Nature’s wrath.