Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Climate Change Is Not, and Never Has Been an Elitist Issue

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April 8, 2019

Representative Cortez said it well herself, but I want to dive into more of why climate change is not an elitist issue at all–moreover, why it’s been seen that way for many years. In fact, the pressing realities of climate change will affect the disenfranchised and marginalized groups of the world well before it hits the upper classes. Last year, the United Nations published a report calling for immediate and “unprecedented” changes in order to deter the rising global temperatures; doing so might prevent the projected famines, flooding, and extreme weather to affect our planet within the next twenty years. And yet, social scientists report that wealthy people are considerably more concerned about climate change than the average person. But when it comes to regulating climate change, we need all hands on deck–not just 1 percent.

It’s understandable why the average person might not be as worried about massive storms in the next decade, especially when they have to worry about whether or not they’re going to be able to put food on their kid’s table that day. These people are worrying about having a job and money and food: these are pressing concerns that affluent people do not have. For a long time, mainstream environmentalism focused solely on affluent concerns regarding climate change: focusing more on beautiful scenery and natural outdoors areas as opposed to the garbage dumps and toxic waste sites that are everyday aspects of many people’s lives.

In 1964, the Wilderness Act was passed, setting a precedent for where climate change concerns were. The act preserved nearly 110 million acres of lands all across America. As revolutionary the act was in regards to land conservation, it did nothing to preserve the areas where several Americans work and live. The message was clear–the mainstream cares about climate change to save areas not “contaminated” by humans, thereby giving the impression that climate change was an elitist issue.

However, major environmental activists were addressing these issues, or, at least, they thought they were. Back in the 60s and 70s, people didn’t expect for economical and social divides to deepen over the years. Because of movements like the Civil Rights Movement, many people assumed that by this day and age, everyone would finally be equal. The lines of race and poverty needed to be addressed to fully address the environmental changes affecting the country, and by the time the 80s rolled around, mainstream environmentalism was born, that largely ignored social and economic inequality.

But times are changing. Young people are on the front lines, taking direct action to make their lawmakers address climate change. An initiative called Fridays for Future has students in over a thousand cities all over the world walking out on school to confront older generation’s lack of action on climate change. It is sad to realize that it is the children who have to lobby for their lives to people who won’t feel the effects of climate change to the same degree, but it is even sadder to think how things might have changed if activists had addressed socioeconomic inequalities from the start of the environmental movement. Whenever you’re organizing a protest or talking about the effects of climate change, the kids in inner cities developing asthma and the kids in Flint poisoned with lead must be at the forefront of the conversation.

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