6 years, 112 days, 15 hours, 58 minutes, 16 … 15 … 14 … seconds. The Climate Clock in New York ticks down, the time of our due action disappearing steadily and rapidly.
As Hurricane Ida ravaged parts of the Southeast, leaving battered and devastated communities in its path, 1 million Louisiana residents have been without electricity since August 29, 14,000 have been displaced and 49 bodies have been found in flooded basements and apartments in New York.
Everything from this summer’s record-setting heavy rainfall and extreme heat to droughts and wildfires have one main force to blame: humans. 17 million tons of clothing are dumped into U.S. landfills annually, where one piece of polyester will take hundreds of years to degrade. In addition, one third of produced food ends up in landfills, leaving a carbon footprint larger than that of airline services in the U.S. The wasted food rots in the landfills, putting the energy and resources poured into cultivating and producing the individual ingredients to waste.
As global temperatures increase, larger and stronger storms will form. 90% of the heat trapped in our atmosphere will make its way into the ocean. According to the United Nations Climate Report, no matter what we do right now, the intense natural disasters and the ocean’s temperature warming three degrees is inevitable. This increase in warm water only serves as extra fuel for more hurricanes, allowing them to spiral out of control more quickly as the evaporated water creates additional moisture. This unnatural increase in water vapor will cause dangerous and more frequent downpours, leading to mass destruction not only to man-made infrastructure, but also to natural settings such as forests and coral reefs.
Even if the public were to start pursuing an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, there’s only so much we can accomplish; currently, 100 investors and state-owned fossil fuel companies are responsible for approximately 70% of the world’s historical greenhouse gas emissions. Large corporations such as Amazon and Chevron and popular clothing brands like H&M, Hollister and Zara, have integrated their products into our daily lives in an unethical and environmentally unhealthy manner. While consumers play a critical role in driving this destructive cycle, corporations — putting out the line of products we choose from — should follow more sustainable practices and be held accountable for the damage created through their products. It’s crucial that an effort to be more environmentally conscious of their output be made.
In regards to our government’s role in mitigating the effects of climate change, the U.S.’ efforts have not made as much progress as promised. In 1993, the Clinton Administration commissioned the Climate Change Action Plan, an initiative that lacked governmental support and sufficient funding, and without mandated enforcement, was a failure. More recently, on President Biden’s first day in office, he rejoined the Paris Agreement, an international treaty which, among other goals, aims to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global temperature rise. However, many climate experts say that most countries’ pledges to the Paris Agreement are not ambitious enough to achieve their goals.
On a smaller scale, Newton can also do more – though we must recognize our victories and efforts. Newton adopted a five-year climate action plan in 2019, which primarily focuses on switching to renewable energy, ensuring low-emission transportation, improving buildings and reducing emissions from consumption and disposal. To make Newton a carbon-neutral community by 2050, milestones to hit throughout the duration of the plan have been planned.
In any case, actions speak louder than words; for years, politicians and corporations have given their word for a lower-emission future through proposals, but not many steps have been taken towards these goals. It’s easy to make promises, but following through is another challenge we must work on.
While the city-wide implementations are pushing Newton in the right direction, we hope to see a more collectivized community effort. Whether that be by having frequent, mandatory panels on the causes and effects of climate change in middle and high schools in Newton or by offering focus group projects for residents to get involved like the 4C Tree initiative, incorporating climate change into education and community opportunities will help spread wider awareness to members within our community. After all, climate change is everyone’s problem.
Newton should install solar panels on their public buildings; Newton should create a system of composting; and Newton should incentivize switching to a greener mode of transportation. With an upcoming mayoral election, we must prioritize our climate when choosing our leaders and take steps towards affirmative action in such pressing times.