Buchaniec: Climate Change is our World War III

Catherine Buchaniec, Op-Ed Contributor

The alarm has rung. Again and again, we read the headlines and flip to the next page. Through raging wildfires and unprecedented hurricanes, we send thoughts and prayers. We donate a few dollars to the natural disaster in question and continue blissfully ignoring the problem right in front of our faces: climate change will be humankind’s downfall.

We are a world at war with itself. Partaking in a catastrophic struggle not created through a failure in diplomacy or discourse over nuclear programs, but created through our own greed-centered pursuits and innovative domination over nature. And we are not prepared for battle.

During World War II, the United States’ economy mobilized at an unprecedented rate. New Deal programs might have jump-started our economic recovery, but it was our entry into the war that added millions of jobs to the economy and revolutionized our industries.

Currently, the world is in dire need of similar economic measures. Climate change is the single greatest threat to life as we know it and, without radical measures, entire cities, nations, cultures and humanity itself will be at risk of obliteration. This is our World War III.

No one country can solve this problem; climate change is a global problem requiring measures that stretch beyond borders. But the United States needs to get with the program.

When the Koch brothers funnel $100.3 million into climate-denial front groups, we face a few hurdles in effectively communicating the gravity of the situation. When National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow says the most recent climate report produced by the world’s leading scientists is an “overestimate,” we face a palm-to-forehead quandary. When the current leading political party remains the only one on the planet who has not recognized the validity of climate change, we have a major problem.

Climate change is not a Republican versus Democrat issue; it is our reality. From Hurricane Michael to the drought in Cape Town, we have already begun to face an endless stream of battles. If we don’t act now, we will continue to face an onslaught of severe hurricanes and wildfires. What’s more, we will be introduced to a host of new issues.

Imagine a world constantly bombarded with food shortages and the complete annihilation of coastal cities. A world where southern Europe is in permanent drought. A world of water scarcity and heat waves. That is not an “overestimate;” it is our current trajectory.

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even incremental change can have far-reaching results. It is time for us to stop talking and take concrete economic action.

The United States needs to cut 40 percent of our carbon emissions by 2030, eventually moving towards net zero by 2050. In order to do this, our reliance on coal and oil cannot be ignored. It is necessary for those, among other industries, to be relegated to history textbooks.

We need to take a page from Morocco’s book — one of only two countries according to Climate Action Tracker with a clear and definitive plan to meet their 40 percent reduction goal: large-scale projects utilizing renewable energy. In 2015, Morocco commissioned the largest concentrated solar power plant of its kind in the world — an effort that will create jobs and a much-needed energy source. Although Morocco is dwarfed by the United States in population, they set an example for us and other nations.

Furthermore, regulation is paramount. Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, the Environmental Protection Agency has slashed corporate regulations. Yet, several corporations such as Unilever, the owner of brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Dove, have pledged to become carbon positive, meaning that they will cease to use fossil fuels and instead support the generation of more reusable energy than they consumes. In the United Kingdom, Unilever has agreed to eliminate single use plastic packaging.

Nonetheless, this is not enough. Global companies need to abide by a global need to make environmentally sound decisions. Although Unilever is leading the charge, not all corporations are this self-motivated. Consequently, we need to elect politicians independent of corporate money who support the regulation of all businesses.

Last Monday, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rang the alarm once again. It is time for us to finally listen.

In T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” these lines ring true:

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

If the world’s humans continue on our destructive path, we will be the ones whimpering. By 2030, we will realize that climate change was not waiting to show its full force through one epic event, but rather a compounding series of disasters and ignored warnings. In order to avoid our whimper, our doomsday, our conclusion of life, society needs to put aside political differences and personal grievances and work towards saving the planet and, moreover, ourselves.

Catherine Buchaniec is a Medill freshman. She 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.