Imagine a world where everyone is required to wear protective masks, people are dying of lung disease, businesses are closing and millions of people are out of work. Three months ago, this setting for a dystopian novel would seem just that — fictional. We can all agree pandemic living is confusing, scary and overall unenjoyable. We can also agree if we do not act fast and efficiently in fighting climate change we will face a similar fate.
We hesitated and ignored the experts and as a result we are now locked in our homes or risking our safety to keep this country running and healthy. It did not need to be this way.
As much as we may want to blame China for withholding information early in the outbreak, researchers and scientific minds alike have been sounding the alarms for years about the potential destructiveness of a viral outbreak. In particular, Bill Gates said we were very unprepared for a coronavirus or influenza outbreak a few years ago. Unfortunately, it seems to be human nature to opt for short term blissful ignorance rather than face what may be a frightening future reality.
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This phenomenon is best exemplified by our attitude towards climate change. The thought of uncontrollable natural disasters, widespread food insecurity and minimal access to clean water are daunting and much easier to ignore as a possibility. But if we do not expedite our fight against climate change, this possibility will undoubtedly turn into reality — and we have already seen glimpses of this.
Even before the pandemic, many people in Southeast Asia wore masks to help filter out pollutants. This habit originated in Japan after its post-WWII rapid industrialization. Currently, Japanese consumers spend approximately $230 million on surgical masks every year.
Regular use of masks has spread to neighboring, industrializing countries with high amounts of air pollutants such as China and South Korea. While this may seem radical to western civilization, many people in our country face this problem and it overwhelmingly affects people from marginalized communities or people of poor socioeconomic status. These communities are often built next to pollutant plants. Asthma and respiratory illness are three times more common in African American communities than in white communities.
On the economic side, it is estimated that an increase in temperature alone could claim upwards of 80 million jobs worldwide. This combined with unpredictable weather patterns, strong storms and droughts pose a major threat to the world and our economy, especially to the agricultural sector.
This is especially worrying for Wisconsin, where agriculture plays a significant role in the economy. Agriculture provides an average of $60 billion per year and employs 10% of the workforce. Farming has already been suffering in Wisconsin, and climate change will only worsen the effects.
A major problem in climate control is the feeling of individual insignificance. For example, “I know I am not supposed to buy a disposable water bottle, but if I don’t millions of others will, so what’s the point?” or “What is one more bottle going to add to this global problem?” These feelings are real and rational.
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But, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we make extraordinary progress when we unite and work together. Of course, our leaders deserve some credit, but it is the everyday citizens who realized that this fight is bigger than any one individual and stayed home. It required everyone’s effort. Plans are plans — they only save lives when people take responsibility into their own hands. We need to continue this mentality even after we recover from the virus.
If you take away anything from this article, I hope it is that we still have a chance to change our habits. Why wait until the situation becomes absolutely dire and we begin losing lives and suffering tremendous economic costs? Finally, do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Climate change is daunting and makes you feel insignificant. Maybe you won’t save the world by using a metal straw, but a least it is a step in the right direction. If everyone joins in, then we have a world-saving movement.
Jonah McGarvey ([email protected]) is a freshman studying political science.