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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 21, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: U.S. environmental GPA says it is crunch time

This time of year is a tough one for college students. With final exams quickly approaching, the average student is forced to confront all the work they have neglected over the course of the semester. It seems like every assignment that was submitted incomplete, every chapter left unstudied, every question that was not asked during class, have finally caught up to everyone, dragging students and their GPA down the tubes. It is a tough time. Fortunately, there is the comfort of solidarity, for many students are in the same exact spot. And if that does not reassure anyone, consider the current environmental state of the U.S., as the most recent National Climate Assessment has led many to a similar mindset of students right now.

On Nov. 23, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). This document reports new findings from the USGCRP and analyzes the effect of global change as well as any current trends in that change. The contents of this assessment, while in no way unprecedented, are a sobering warning of humankind’s, specifically Americans,’ impact on the planet. For many Americans, this assessment struck with the same dread of a “please visit my office hours regarding your grade” written across a college exam.

Of course, the U.S. and the wider world have been aware of climate issues for decades. In fact, much of the NCA4 consisted of similar findings from the NCA3, the previous assessment published in 2014. The significance of the NCA4 is, in part, that many findings that had been theoretical in 2014 have since become realities in 2018. For instance, the NCA3 predicted an increase in flooding in coastal cities such as Miami and Charleston, South Carolina. The NCA4 documented record numbers of “nuisance flooding” in these cities and others.

Things certainly seem to be crashing down in a very “end of semester” sort of fashion. And this feeling is further emphasized by the fast approaching “deadline” for environmental action. Experts agree that if real steps are not taken to prevent the global climate by 2030, everyone will be in for a significantly more taxing time. The effects of further inaction will be felt across a number of sectors, including but not limited to: agriculture, infrastructure, national security and international business.

The U.S. has two overarching responses to this situation. Either the U.S. can continue procrastinating the implementation of beneficial environmental policies and actions or enter a serious crunch time. Past years have seen a lot of dancing around possible responses to these issues but little in the way of changes at the extent that is necessary. And at this point of time, action truly is necessary. There is no withdrawing from this situation; it must be completed to the end to the best of the country’s ability.

Comparing climate issues to final exams may seem to minimize the situation. However, I believe this comparison does service to the issue. A certain amount of empathy, or at the very least, applicability to oneself is necessary to inspire change. People have handled similar situations to the climate crisis in their own experience. Hopefully drawing a connection between an experience such as final exams and the climate crisis create deeper understanding and more committed effort.