Protests. Marches. Strikes. Walk-Outs. The impact of young people on the direction of climate change proposals has been monumental. However, their voices represent a mere fraction of Generation Z. While most Gen Z’ers do indeed agree on the need for change to preserve our beautiful world, opinions differ as to exactly what changes are needed and who should be involved in implementing them. The majority of Americans recognize the dangers that climate change confronts our country with, so there is overwhelming support to take action to prevent further damage. Despite the polarizing political sphere in today’s world, climate change is a unique issue on which many people agree that something must be done. However, a significant divergence in approach becomes apparent as we discuss possible solutions to the looming effects of climate change.
As a preface, I want to express my appreciation for the activism displayed by many of my neighbors and peers. Our community, country, and world benefit when people speak their beliefs. This article is not intended as an attack on those I don’t agree with but I hope to offer an opposing point of view to challenge and provide another perspective on this critical issue. I ask only that you give my words careful consideration, as I do yours so that we can both benefit from a broader discussion.
I’ve lived in Greater Boston and Metropolitan Washington, DC as well as other areas of the United States. The majority of the climate activism I have witnessed has centered around attending protests and rallies. While such activism is applaudable for bringing attention to the issue the limited policy proposals presented often lack substance and practicality. Many activists’ proposals fail to account for the majority of Americans who do not agree with their particular way of thinking. And, as with many things in our current political climate, if proposals evolve to better suit the needs of the political fringe the feasibility of meaningful reform decreases.
The majority of climate proposals fail to garner broad support in spite of the fact that most Americans appear to desire measures to deal with climate change. However, lawmakers have failed to pass a comprehensive plan on the national level. In my opinion, this is not because of disagreement over the severity of the crisis but because so far the measures proposed are not appealing to the majority of Americans.
A perfect example of one of these fringe proposals is the Green New Deal which was dead on arrival to the House of Representatives due to the complications of added requirements dealing with healthcare and employment initiatives unrelated to the climate issue. However, the silence from currently elected national leaders and the media on other proposals is deafening. The Baker-Shultz Plan, which would establish carbon dividends and greatly reduce carbon emissions, is widely supported by former government leaders, business executives, and voters of all demographics. Despite the apparent popularity of the Baker-Shultz Plan in polling, it is rarely talked about.
It is crucial that more proposals are presented to the public so that progress can be made towards deferring the effects of climate change. And while lack of action today or tomorrow will not be the sole determiner in the future of our planet, we need to carefully craft a comprehensive proposal that all Americans can support. And while our past actions as humans will never be erased or fully forgotten, we can make changes today that will actually make a difference.
So Americans are presented with a difficult query when asked what they would like to see in meaningful climate reform. Most have pointed to proposals that will add jobs to the energy sector and economy, reduce carbon emissions, and increase energy efficiency. These goals are more than realistic as a wide majority of Americans are supportive, and if effectively implemented they will have a profound impact on our environment.
Despite the mass interest in proposals that encompass these objectives, three-quarters of Americans express concern that efforts to address the issue will raise prices on consumable goods. Furthermore, just 2 in 10 are very confident that those efforts alone will reduce global warming. And of those who are supportive of immediate government intervention, a majority believe that implementation should be voluntary, not mandated. With this insight rests the responsibility of our local, state, and federal leaders to show that they are responsible for legislating a comprehensive plan which acknowledges the concerns that individuals express.
When we look to preserve our environment, we cannot view the government as the sole entity responsible for protecting the world and the country around us. While demonizing businesses and corporations is ubiquitous in our society it is absolutely crucial to engage the private sector in crafting successful climate policy. A major flaw among some climate activists is that in order to be pro-climate, you must be at least anti-business if not anti-capitalist as well. This is short-sighted, in my opinion. Regulations are necessary but cannot be the first line of defense of the climate.
Individual citizens also have a role to play in protecting our environment. And while a majority of the clean actions we can perform as individuals are not revolutionary it is nonetheless important that we recycle, reduce our use of one-use consumables (such as plastic bags and water bottles), and conserve energy, food, and water. As it stands, only a fraction of Americans practice such measures and increased participation would lead to a cleaner and more sustainable world.
As Americans seek to increase energy efficiency and combat climate, all forms of clean energy must be utilized as society weans off the use of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, this leads to another major flaw in the current argument by activists who oppose the use of nuclear energy. A supportive 83% of Americans would like to see the increased use of renewable energy sources although admittedly there is a split over expanded use of nuclear energy. It is vital that we embrace nuclear energy as well as solar, wind, and hydropower as we look to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Despite some national ambivalence about nuclear energy it is refreshing to hear Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang express his support for nuclear energy throughout his campaign. Solutions to climate change are only possible by utilizing all that is accessible to us as a nation and world.
Forming my beliefs has led me to become a concerned and engaged citizen. I am a proud member of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC), a group dedicated to common-sense, moderate reforms and proposals to combat climate change. While working on Beacon Hill this past summer as a legislative intern for Rep. Michael Soter of Bellingham I always found a way to put my interest in the environment and world in the front seat whenever I worked on PFAS reduction initiatives or other proposals. Recently the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection drafted regulations that will likely go into effect this year and establish the maximum acceptable amount of PFAS. My experience of learning about policy development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an intern was a great opportunity to actually contribute to the work that we all face in combatting climate change.
It is clear that we have an uphill climb to reverse our course with the environment. No matter what we do, it will be difficult, but that is not a reason to lose hope. It is vital that everyone is engaged in their community, state, and nation’s response to climate change, whether you agree or disagree with the perspectives I have presented in this article. Even without government intervention, we have a duty as individuals to protect the world around us. As often noted in the climate debate we only have one world and that is exactly why we cannot ignore the pressing concerns of the environment.