Schwartz: A warm Chicago winter may bring us joy, but at what cost?

Alex Schwartz, Columnist

With mostly sunny skies, a light breeze and a record high of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, last Saturday was one of those days where you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t go outside. I went for a stroll along the lakefill in my flip-flops, took a few photos of my friends and stared out at Lake Michigan. It felt like a glorious early fall day — in the middle of January. What a poignant coincidence it was that the White House’s webpage on climate change had been removed that very morning.

One warm day can’t prove the existence of climate change. But with the exception of a cold front that occurred for five days at the beginning of the month, temperatures throughout January have been unseasonably mild. Both the month’s average low (16 degrees Fahrenheit) and average high (32 degrees Fahrenheit) have been frequently exceeded thus far, and we’ve seen only a couple of instances of snowfall. The Climate Prediction Center describes that this is likely due to one of the strongest El Nino systems (warm Pacific Ocean currents) in decades. It’s getting warmer in Evanston, and climate change is happening right before our eyes.

A 2016 Gallup poll discovered that 64 percent of Americans worry “a great deal/fair amount” about global warming. If the majority of Americans believe that climate change is happening in real time, why have they failed to elect leaders who reflect that belief? Why was there barely any mention of climate change during the debates of the 2016 election?

Other than hotter summers and more rain, climate change causes few direct problems for most Northwestern students. Most transplant Chicagoans wouldn’t associate a mild January with “global warming,” even though that’s exactly what causes such irregular weather patterns. But in developing countries, which are expected to bear the brunt of climate-related woes in the coming decades, these effects will take on harsher forms. Countries located along the equator, in drought-prone regions or at sea level are most affected by the irregular weather patterns caused by climate change. Many of the most at-risk nations are island chains, such as Kiribati, which is expected to be uninhabitable in just a few decades due to sea level rise and stronger ocean storms. Additionally, agriculture makes up the majority of most developing countries’ economies, leaving the livelihoods of billions of people to the fate of increasingly erratic weather patterns. While richer countries can build levees, provide healthcare and move settlements with relative ease, many of the world’s developing countries lack the resources and infrastructure to do so.

As college students living comfortably in the U.S., which emits the bulk of worldwide greenhouse emissions, we must help combat the effects of climate change. We should hold politicians accountable and ensure that our representatives believe climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. We can take individual action by supporting movements that divest from harmful coal companies, donating to conservation charities, buying organic, turning off lights, etc.

But above all, we cannot forget that global warming is real, dangerous and present. We cannot expect congresspeople to see it as a priority if we don’t. Convince your skeptical friends and family members of the “inconvenient truth” of climate change. Convince them that responsible climate policies aren’t at odds with economic growth and development. Convince them that this is an issue we can all get behind because it affects every single one of us.

Convince yourself, too. Whether you have to repeat “climate change is real” to yourself every day or join an environmentally-conscious club on campus, whether you’re wearing a parka or a t-shirt this winter, make combatting climate change a priority.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.