It’s late fall and it’s time to talk about elections, and the issue that should be on all of our minds this — and every — election cycle: climate change.
Back in my high school days, I was extensively involved in climate activism, organizing climate strikes, petitioning legislators and participating in campaigns to protect our earth through the law. Environmental justice is something I’m passionate about, so there were many moments of pride, of excitement, of vigor that came with being involved in such a pertinent movement.
But there was also, and still is, anxiety. And nihilism. And a petrifying realization that corporations, staunchly protected by the very systems we are told are for the people, contribute to the vast majority of carbon emissions and yet for some reason, citizens are expected to save the earth by riding their bikes more often.
These fears are real and have definitely kept me up at night. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the feeling of impending ruination, this climate anxiety, has probably crossed your mind as well.
Climate anxiety walks a fine line between being a normal reaction to climate change, even a good sense of awareness, to being a crushing weight on a person’s conscience. As a college student, if you can relate to this feeling, it’s not unusual. In fact, a study published in The Lancet found that 75% of individuals 16 to 25 years old are frightened, with almost half of respondents saying this apprehension negatively impacts their daily lives.
Like so many other aspects of life in the United States, the environment has been politicized, split down a line of conservatism and liberalism. I find this so ironically humorous, because don’t we all want somewhere to live? Is it so challenging to see that Earth, which happens to foster our entire existence, is slowly becoming unlivable, a fact that many conservative politicians don’t recognize?
So with the issue being so politicized, the future of the fight against climate change is intrinsically tied to those occupying positions of power in the government. Within our current systems, the officials we elect have the authority to determine which issues take precedence. Our vote is how we can utilize climate anxiety for the better, instead of remaining passive in the processes of the government.
It is no longer acceptable to merely acknowledge that climate change is real and then continue about our daily lives. We must also place pressure on the government, on the systems in the United States, to take this crisis seriously and make real efforts to protect the planet. We must assess who the biggest beneficiaries of this crisis are and who is bearing the brunt of climate change.
Because, truly, climate change isn’t a crisis of the future of the earth. It is here, and it is now. Be aware of the fact that there is a strong correlation between the location of marginalized communities and sources of pollution. Be aware that cities are intentionally planned so neighborhoods composed of minority populations reside next to heavily polluting industries, causing detrimental health effects to the residents.
So, when you fill out your ballot this year, take time to look into the climate initiatives of the elected officials you are voting for. Just as a blatant dismissal of science should be a red flag, failure to even mention global warming and its effects in a candidate’s platform should make you wary.
Earth is changing, and it can’t be ignored that it’s for the worse. I hate to add to the stress of a UC Berkeley student, because trust me, I know the last thing needed is feeling pressure that is outside of the world of academia. Yet voting is one way you can respond and act upon climate anxiety rather than allowing it to paralyze you.
We are young; most of us are younger than the elected officials running for office this November, and we need this planet to sustain us. Not in the sense of extractive purposes, but in the manner where the environment isn’t weaponized against oppressed communities and hurricanes don’t decimate cities on a frequent basis and infectious diseases don’t cause life altering pandemics.
Take climate anxiety seriously. Take your right to vote and use it to emphatically show that we will not let global warming and environmental justice be sidelined by the government. And don’t stop there. Voting is a starting block, a launch pad off into a world where we all fight back against the complacency of our institutions to the destruction of our ecosystems
Climate anxiety is fuel. It is the gasoline, and your vote is a piece of kindling. Turn unease into the driving force behind your fight against the apathy around climate change in our current systems.