A youth in the USA: Why the lack of sustainable changes keeps me up at night

I distinctly remember watching Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, when I was about 7 years old. I felt a pit in my stomach as I watched a polar bear attempt to climb onto what seemed like the last piece of floating sea ice there was. As much as the film scared the living daylights out of me, I was young and naive and I assumed that the grownups would figure this whole thing out. 15 years later it seems I was wrong. The older generation has failed the youth, robbed us of the future we have a right to, and decided that profit is more important than life.

The United States has known about climate change since the 1970s. The data was clear, the evidence was irrefutable and there was still (relatively) plenty of time to act on the issue before tipping points were hit. I recently read a New York Times article about how the US very nearly took effective action to combat greenhouse gas emissions in the 1980s. The article, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change”, exposes just how close we came to preventing further warming by signing binding treaties and how a few key players blocked this progress. It makes me sick to think about. A generation, now in comfortable old age having had the ability to live full lives, has stolen the certainty of my own future. The best word to describe the feeling of being a youth in the US today: frustration.

One of the largest parts of my frustration is the fact that the validity of climate change is still largely debated in the US. It has somehow transformed into a political issue rather than a scientific one. Political alignment is now one of the best determining factors as to whether or not you “believe” in climate change. Democrats are over three times as likely as Republicans to say dealing with climate change should be a top priority. Science is now something you can choose to believe, chalking it up to fake news if you don’t like it. We should have ended the great climate change debate back in the 70’s when definitive data proved it was happening, whether you believed in it or not.

I often think, how did we get here? A country once called the greatest in the world is now getting in the way of its own future. We have had the technology and the tools to tackle climate change for several decades, yet we walk around with our heads in the sand debating whether or not it's time to act. The time to act was about 30 years ago, it's now time to accept adaptation as our best option. The US has allowed Big Oil to pull puppet strings on governmental leaders and prevent any real progress towards a carbon neutral society. Sure we have a few more models of electric cars and Tesla likes to think they’ve solved the issue, but the fact is the US is still incredibly dependent on fossil fuels as in the last century.

The US’s priorities are clear. Economic growth over all else, even if it kills us. My frustration lies in the clear apathy towards ensuring our youngest generation has a future, at least a livable one. Why divert resources towards creating a more resilient tomorrow if we can live opulently today. Everytime I see another headline about the newest deadly natural disaster whose impact has been multiplied by climate change I think maybe this will be the one to inspire the US to change, and everytime I am wrong. The US is one of the greatest contributors to global emissions and our leaders drag their feet, unwilling to put our precious economy at risk.

My future is uncertain. It is uncertain because the US is unable to lead by example. My generation will not have the same opportunities as generations before, and we will face unprecedented struggles. What drives me up the wall is that a majority of people in the US don’t seem to realize how dire our situation has become. We go about our daily lives, living in First World excess, thinking that things won’t get that bad. As a youth in the US, I am frustrated. My future will be shaped by climate change, and the leaders that let this happen will face no consequences. The responsibility of fighting climate change has not been passed down to my generation, rather the responsibility of adapting to it has.

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