As climate crisis worsens, collective action is our best hope

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I am losing sleep at night pondering whether or not I will someday want to bring children into a world of environmental catastrophe. Carbon dioxide is entering our atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate, skyrocketing past the 400 parts per million mark. The rate of temperature increase has nearly doubled in the past 50 years. Sea levels are rising, and islands and coastal communities are being inundated. The species extinction rate is 1,000 times natural levels, and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. And yet, policies are not changing. The weight of this reality feels paralyzing.

It also feels incredibly frustrating. I feel surrounded by countless individuals of vast socioeconomic privilege who are motivated purely by self-interest instead of investing in the future of the planet. People with the power to make dramatic structural changes to our energy, food and water systems and ensure a livable future for all people. So where is their sense of urgency?

Rightfully many of these folk are maintained in other calls to action, striding toward alternative goals of bettering humanity. There are many fights to fight. But to those without any such goals, those on a path for monetary gain and a comfortable lifestyle, I ask you to consider this call to action. Consider the opportunity you have been given to engage in an environmental crisis demanding attention.

The lethargy of the powerful to take action on this crisis, or in any realm outside their own self-interest, for that matter, has puzzled me for years. And in a classic Berkeley manner, I have society to blame. American society notoriously boasts individualism. It is the American dream to make-it-or-break-it all as a single unit. We are subdued into careers and lifestyles of self-interest with the idea that it is the right thing to do. Community dissipates, competition reigns, and empathy is near out of grasp.

It is easy for powerful people to distance themselves from the climate crisis, but it is not easy for those affected by their action and inaction. Although everyone has a right to pursue what they desire, it is imperative to respond to the urgency of the climate crisis. It is not a particular class’s responsibility to solve the issue of climate change alone, but the powerful and wealthy should strive to enact a change proportional to their power. There is nothing fair about the cards we are dealt, and the impacts of climate change and other environmental degradation are most certainly not fair in their distribution.

We can no longer act thinking of the individual alone. Though everyone needs to come together to protect this planet for present and future generations, those who emit the most have both the resources and the responsibility to lead the fight against climate change. Everyone with the means, in every field, should be taking action.

I realize this is by no means an easy ask. The answers to the climate change crisis are complex and uncertain, and I empathize with the yearning for a comfortable life. Life in my childhood town and family was very much advertised as being about establishing monetary wealth in order to live comfortably, and for some that is all that can be done. My purpose is not to belittle the hard work of anybody striving to attain comfort, nor to attack any individual’s choices. My hope is simply to inspire action from those with the ability to take it.

I ask everyone who is willing and able for their engagement to any degree manageable. Advocate for policy change. Fight against the needless polarization of climate change in politics. History shows us that climate action doesn’t have to be controversial — even Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher played roles to solve the ozone crisis of the 1980s. Strive toward structural changes to our energy and food systems. And, UC Berkeley officials, divesting from fossil fuels is a great first step, but we must end our unsustainable partnership with PepsiCo and push to achieve zero waste and all renewable energy as quickly as possible. Because as I write, sea levels are rising, ice is melting, our food system is losing stability, and human and nonhuman habitats are being lost. And it will be those among us with the least stake in the cause who are most impacted by the effects.

Mia Silverberg is a senior studying molecular environmental biology. She works in the Office of Unsustainable Partnerships at the ASUC.