By Olivia Mizelle
The hectic events of the past year—COVID-19’s rampant takeover and the tumultuous presidential election to name a few— have distracted many from a very dire issue: climate change. Climate change is an invisible beast, but it is one that must be tackled; so, here is a look back at the climate events of the past year in the United States and a look forward towards what is to come to serve as a reminder of the fragile state of our planet.
Feb. 2020 was a month of precipitation extremes, with flooding in the eastern U.S. and drought in the west. Temperature records were set in the spring: March was the second hottest March on record, as was April. In August, fires tore through the Pacific northwest, burning over a million acres and making the air quality nearly unlivable. Additionally, this summer was the warmest on record for the northern hemisphere. There have been 29 hurricanes and tropical storms this year, the most ever.
The U.S. has been setting climate records for decades, but not desirable ones. Writer Andrea Thompson wrote in Scientific American, “So far this year, the U.S. has had 16 natural disasters (including wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and drought) that each caused at least $1 billion in damage, tying the record set in both 2011 and 2017—with several months left to go. Such statistics have been compiled since 1980.” The World Meteorological Organization said this year is set to end about 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the last half of the 1800s, and 2020 will go down as one of the three hottest years on record.
Around the world, but especially in the United States, action needs to be taken to reverse these trends before the damage on our climate is irreversible. In his keynote speech on December 2, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged humanity to “end the war on nature.” He declared that companies need to adjust their business models to greener models. Only 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions, so corporate reform would work wonders for the climate.
The reason this reform has not happened in the U.S. is largely due to the political divide regarding climate change. A Pew Research study found that only about 15 percent of conservative Republicans in the U.S. think that the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity, while 79 percent of liberal Democrats think that it is. Because of this divide of opinions between political parties, the party of the president in office largely determines what action is taken to improve the state of the climate. According to Brookings, this partisan divide did not begin until the 1990s, which makes you think: maybe it can be reversed. This returns us to systemic reform. If education and politics inform more accurately about climate change, more minds may start to be changed. This needs to happen sooner rather than later.
These frightening facts leave many feeling hopeless, and wondering what they can do. There are always small things that anyone can do to help, like using less plastic, driving less, and buying sustainable clothing. However, the best thing that most “regular” people can do is elect government officials who will hold big corporations accountable and put environmental regulations in place. Systemic change seems to be slowly arriving in places around the globe, and the numbers are going up for the people who believe climate change is real; however, faster changes need to be made before climate change is entirely irreversible. If you have anyone in your life who is a climate change denier, consider sitting them down for an empathetic conversation and present them with some facts. Encourage them to vote for people who will take climate change seriously, and stay informed on what you can do to help the climate.