I was eight years old when I learned what global warming was. I had come across the term in a science workbook and asked my dad what it meant. His explanation—that the earth was slowly heating up due to activities like the burning of natural gas and coal—was the most frightening thing I had learned in my short life. In my mind, global warming was occurring with great drama and speed: shorelines rising before our eyes, hurricanes whipping along the coast, sheets of ice breaking into pieces with polar bears still astride them. For months I religiously monitored my family’s water use and refused to turn lights on to read at dusk. On Earth Day I planned to walk to school instead of riding a car, and I cried when I woke up too late.
Over time, the fear passed. My support for environmental preservation became more passive. Climate change and all that it entailed—mass extinctions, natural disasters, rampant disease—lost its vividness, pushed into the background by more immediate concerns. And while prominent climate change deniers occasionally reared their heads, I was more heartened to hear about the positive measures that were being taken against global warming. Last April, I rejoiced when President Obama signed the Paris climate agreement to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which officially went into effect last week.
With the election of Donald Trump, the fear of climate change has become urgent to me once more. Upon waking to the news of his triumph, I ricocheted among fury, disappointment, shock, and sadness. Like so many others on this campus and across the U.S., I grieved that a sexist, racist bigot like Trump could win over someone as qualified to lead as Hillary Clinton. I was disheartened that half the population of the country I call home did not believe that I, and so many others I love, belonged in their vision of America. But I remained hopeful that our presence, our votes, and our voices would prevail. I remained hopeful that even if we have to live for the next four years with a government that condones sexual assault, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and xenophobia, with time and resilience we would be able to undo the damage caused by a Trump-led world. Legislature, after all, can be overturned.
But climate change cannot be overturned. Scientists have predicted that a 3.6-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature would lock the planet into “an irreversible future of extreme and dangerous warming,” according to the New York Times. Trump has stated that he views climate change as a “hoax,” that he will stop funding U.N. climate change programs during his first 100 days, and that he plans to “cancel” the Paris agreement, which may encourage other countries like India to follow suit. He has nominated Myron Ebell, a leading climate change denier who claimed in a Forbes op-ed that global warming is good because everyone wants milder winters, to head the EPA transition. And Trump’s goals to revitalize the coal industry involve potentially dismantling the Clean Air Act or even the EPA itself. Such a drastic measure would affect a host of protective policies currently in place, including the Clean Water Act, which prevents cities and towns from dumping sewage into U.S. waterways.
We only have one planet and not a lot of time. We can’t escape climate change by moving to another country or by combatting Trump’s legislative and executive decisions with the next election. If we wait until the end of Trump’s term(s) to act, it will already be much too late. Though this election season has in large part been characterized by divisiveness and disconnect, climate change, at least, should not be a partisan issue. Now more than ever we must acknowledge the urgency of taking action. Those who don’t believe that the earth’s temperature is rising can assert their denial as much as they want—it doesn’t change the facts. And it doesn’t change the reality that if we do nothing, the consequences of this presidency will soon hurt everyone, whether we voted for Trump or not.