We're Fighting Climate Change the Wrong Way

We're Going About Climate Change All the Wrong Way and It's Hurting Those Most At Risk

The climate change discussion has long left out the majority of the global population in its discussions. Marginalized peoples bear the brunt of climate change but rarely have the opportunities to fight against it. This needs to change.

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Climate change is happening. This much we know. But while might you be gearing up and preparing for the "12 years left" mantra that has been passed around social media since the release of the latest UN report, for many, that twelve years is already up. For millions of low income and marginalized people, climate change is not a far off projection, it is on their doorstep. While citizens of developed nations are preoccupied with purchasing electric cars, reducing their meat intake, and buying carbon credits for their international flights, millions of others are facing the real consequences of climate change. The latest findings show a potential increase of 2 degrees celsius, which might not sound like much to those of us living in moderate climates. For the people living on coasts and in deserts areas however, this is life threatening. Tropical regions are facing sea level rise 15-20% more extreme than the global average, Africa and Middle East are facing severe drought and food shortages, and storms will only increase in severity for those nations already crippled by debt and poverty.

Individual action might be a start for many hoping to contribute to the cause, but climate action ultimately comes down to policy and climate policies and strategies proposed for and by developed nations often miss the mark on fair and equitable climate action. Simply doubling down on emission reductions, subsidizing electric cars, and creating carbon tax policies does not get to the heart of the problem. While Northern nations develop policies that will keep them comfortable in their lifestyles and provide easy options for saving the planet, the rest of the world is already feeling the effects of a global crisis they did not cause. There is a glaring problem in the way we are addressing climate change as a society. Marginalized people have been almost completely left out of the discussion, and when it comes to developing policies to create a sustainable future, this is unacceptable. Climate policies that do not take into account the needs of the majority of the global population do not only worsen existing inequalities, but are unsustainable.

A critical and often ignored aspect of climate change action is climate justice. While traditional climate change activism centers around primarily the environment, climate justice recenters the discussion around people. Climate justice understands the importance and nuances of climate change, and takes a human rights approach to ensure equal sharing of climate change burdens across global populations. The world is already be rife with inequalities in development, race, color, income, and gender, yet climate change only worsens these inequalities. Ignoring these inequalities while developing climate strategies grossly misses the heart of the problem and leads to ineffective and unsustainable policy-making.

We don't have to look far to see these inequalities in action.

Instances like hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, and Maria have all shown that even on US soil, individuals are affected differently based on race, gender, and socio-economic status. Lower class individuals and communities of color are not only relegated to more high risk areas, but have less resilient infrastructure, less emergency response resources, less resources to relocate, and less opportunities to rebuild their lives after disasters occur. A recent study of Houston, TX found that "Census block groups where at least three-quarters of the population is non-white bear an absurd proportion of the city's pollution: 78 percent of closed landfills, 84 percent of carcinogen emitters and 88 percent of hazardous waste sites." These low income and majority black and Hispanic communities are denied the basic resources white neighborhoods are given while being forced to live under unsafe conditions. The presence of storms such as Harvey compound these conditions and worsen the divide between poor and rich, white and black. Similarly New Orleans faced the same divisions, but Katrina was soon forgotten from the public eye. As affected communities begged to be relocated from vulnerable areas, they were met with deaf ears. Continually pushing individuals into higher risk areas as sea level rise threatens more and more communities not only is fundamentally unjust, it is unsustainable. Tackling climate change requires more than running away and rebuilding elsewhere, long term solutions require inclusion and protection of all communities to ensure permanent safety and resiliency.

The most popular strategies for tackling climate change often lie in market based policies which take the pressure off governments and companies to make real tangible change in their culture in favor of performative and often meaningless efforts. Market based policies such as subsidizing electric cars like Tesla, total overhaul and rebuilding of existing infrastructure to make it "eco-friendly," and creation of markets for eco friendly products, while in good faith, do nothing to address the core issues and inequities of climate change. While many of these policies aim to tackle climate change aggressively and quickly, they end up being largely ineffective and even harmful to many due to their oblivious nature.

Strategies like "cap and trade," "carbon taxes," and "carbon offsets" merely provide temporary solutions for the biggest emitters to get away with harmful actions. Cap and trade and carbon tax policies allow companies to buy their way out of ecological debt while still emitting the same if not more pollutants into the atmosphere and environment. One study even found that communities, specifically low income and minority communities, surrounding corporations using cap and trade programs experienced an increase in air and environmental pollution. Other programs such as carbon offsets that claim to improve carbon sequestration through tree planting or other similar actions can actually be extremely harmful to indigenous peoples and locals in developing nations. Large companies seeking to make a profit off the climate crisis take essential and valuable land from indigenous communities plant forests with the intention of conservation and environmental protection, but in the end deeply impact and harm communities. See https://blog.oup.com/2017/04/political-intermediation-environment/

Carbon and climate policies that hurt people not only completely undermine attempts for a equitable future, they also prevent the possibility of a sustainable one.

Bringing morality into the question will not achieve any headway with those only invested in coming out on top. Moral pleas to corporations and politicians are not enough to stir them to action. Under our current economic and political system, the "right thing to do" is not what benefits the most people, but the people with the most to gain. For instance, while the melting arctic might prove disastrous for arctic ecosystems and livelihoods, it also provides a new source of revenue and exploration. Expanded shipping lanes, resource extraction, and national security all are just as relevant to the discussion as saving the polar bears. In order to build effective policy going forward, climate movements and activists need to stop relying on companies and governments to do what is "right". There is no moral argument to win. However, understanding that good and effective climate policy is policy that benefits the majority rather than the minority will lead to much more productive discussions. These conversations then should be approached from the perspective of climate justice.

Climate justice ensures that the fight for climate change keeps the emphasis on people, rather than corporations, governments, or the environment exclusively. Climate action networks that emphasize climate justice are more robust, comprehensive, and effective in the end. People's Climate March, The Green New Deal, and other movements that have put climate justice at the forefront are redirecting the narrative and strengthening the overall climate change movement. In order for climate policies to be effective, they need to benefit not only an elite few, but everyone. Going forward, tackling climate change will require a consideration of global inequalities and disparities which have led to the creation of climate change in the first place.

This essay was written as part of the public engagement component in partial fulfillment of the course POLS 3240: Climate Justice at the University of Connecticut.

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I Am A College Student, And I Think Free Tuition Is Unfair To Everyone Who's Already Paid For It

Stop expecting others to pay for you.

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I attend Fordham University, a private university in the Bronx.

I commute to school because I can't afford to take out more loans than I already do.

Granted, I've received scholarships because of my grades, but they don't cover my whole tuition. I am nineteen years old and I have already amassed the debt of a 40-year-old. I work part-time and the money I make covers the bills I have to pay. I come from a middle-class family, but my dad can't afford to pay off my college loans.

I'm not complaining because I want my dad to pay my loans off for me; rather I am complaining because while my dad can't pay my loans off (which, believe me, he wants too), he's about to start paying off someone else's.

During the election, Bernie frequently advocated for free college.

Now, if he knew enough about economics he would know it simply isn't feasible. Luckily for him, he is seeing his plan enacted by Cuomo in NY. Cuomo has just announced that in NY, state public college will be free.

Before we go any further, it's important to understand what 'free' means.

Nothing is free; every single government program is paid for by the taxpayers. If you don't make enough to have to pay taxes, then something like this doesn't bother you. If you live off welfare and don't pay taxes, then something like this doesn't bother you. When someone offers someone something free, it's easy to take it, like it, and advocate for it, simply because you are not the one paying for it.

Cuomo's free college plan will cost $163,000,000 in the first year (Did that take your breath away too?). Now, in order to pay for this, NY state will increase their spending on higher education to cover these costs. Putting two and two together, if the state decides to raise their budget, they need money. If they need money they look to the taxpayers. The taxpayers are now forced to foot the bill for this program.

I think education is extremely important and useful.

However, my feelings on the importance of education does not mean that I think it should be free. Is college expensive? Yes -- but more so for private universities. Public universities like SUNY Cortland cost around $6,470 per year for in-state residents. That is still significantly less than one of my loans for one semester.

I've been told that maybe I shouldn't have picked a private university, but like I said, I believe education is important. I want to take advantage of the education this country offers, and so I am going to choose the best university I could, which is how I ended up at Fordham. I am not knocking public universities, they are fine institutions, they are just not for me.

My problems with this new legislation lie in the following: Nowhere are there any provisions that force the student receiving aid to have a part-time job.

I work part-time, my sister works part-time, and plenty of my friends work part-time. Working and going to school is stressful, but I do it because I need money. I need money to pay my loans off and buy my textbooks, among other things. The reason I need money is because my parents can't afford to pay off my loans and textbooks as well as both of my sisters'. There is absolutely no reason why every student who will be receiving aid is not forced to have a part-time job, whether it be working in the school library or waitressing.

We are setting up these young adults up for failure, allowing them to think someone else will always be there to foot their bills. It's ridiculous. What bothers me the most, though, is that my dad has to pay for this. Not only my dad, but plenty of senior citizens who don't even have kids, among everyone else.

The cost of living is only going up, yet paychecks rarely do the same. Further taxation is not a solution. The point of free college is to help young adults join the workforce and better our economy; however, people my parents' age are also needed to help better our economy. How are they supposed to do so when they can't spend their money because they are too busy paying taxes?

Free college is not free, the same way free healthcare isn't free.

There is only so much more the taxpayers can take. So to all the students about to get free college: get a part-time job, take personal responsibility, and take out a loan — just like the rest of us do. The world isn't going to coddle you much longer, so start acting like an adult.

Cover Image Credit: https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/free-college-new-york-state.jpg?quality=85

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?

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This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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