Government action necessary to combat climate change

by Jessica Octavio, Senior Staff Writer

Growing up in the dry, brush-ridden terrain of Southern California has given me and many other Californians a grim familiarity with the devastation of seasonal fires. 

The Dixie fire in Northern California has quickly become one of the largest in our state’s history, drawing attention to the increasing urgency surrounding the present catastrophe of the climate crisis. This year alone, wildfires have burned nearly a million acres across California thus far.

In recent years, sustainability has become trendy. Electric vehicle stocks have skyrocketed in value, cow’s milk has become a thing of the past and large food companies, like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, are racing to perfect the plant-based chicken alternative. 

Despite widespread consumer consciousness and our shared dedication to abstain from plastic straws, it seems that for the average person, the war against global warming is futile.

However, this perception is largely because corporations have successfully shifted the narrative so that individual consumers truly believe their choices are consequential for the wellness of the Earth — for better or for worse. 

Even though it is an effective marketing tactic to empower the customer to believe their eco-friendly choices can save the world, it burdens the everyday person to think the deterioration of our environment due to carbon emissions is their own fault. 

The imminent negative consequences of the climate crisis are also highlighting income disparities. If or when climate change brings humans to the challenges of large-scale displacement and food shortages, it will be low-income communities that will face the brunt of the damage caused predominantly by the wealthy. 

According to an AP News report from 2020, wealthy Americans “produce nearly 25% more heat-trapping gases than poorer people at home, according to a comprehensive study of U.S. residential carbon footprints.” The same article revealed that in Los Angeles County, Beverly Hills releases four times more greenhouse gases than South Central.

Under the system of capitalism as it exists today, the health implications and scarcity of food and housing caused by the changing climate will be exacerbated by the greed of the wealthy. 

While homes go unoccupied and tons of food go to waste annually, members of the upper class in the U.S. continue to prove they are incapable of caring for the rest of society unless they are legally obligated to do so.

In a 2019 op-ed in The New Yorker, author Jonathan Franzen argued that, “a top-down intervention needs to happen not only in every country but throughout every country. Making New York City a green utopia will not avail if Texans keep pumping oil and driving pickup trucks.”

In the United States, effective environmental legislation may include subsidizing solar power, electric vehicles and plant-based food industries, increasing funding for public transportation infrastructure while including both tax incentives and penalties for corporations to encourage reducing carbon emissions. 

This critical legislative shift must happen at every level: from the city council members in charge of urban planning to the politicians on Capitol Hill capable of sweeping environmental reform.

Globally, it is especially important for politicians, corporations and all others to listen to scientists and experts on how the climate will affect the ecosystem and society as a whole. 

Another group we should pay attention to as we navigate the climate crisis is Indigneous populations. Civilizations who have a deep connection to the land and centuries of experience living sustainably and tending to the areas they live in are at the forefront of advocating for the preservation of protected areas and the prevention of development in ecologically and spiritually significant places. 

As responsible residents of Earth, we can’t let the doom and gloom of dramatic headlines about the climate crisis discourage us from making better choices for the planet in our daily lives and during important elections. 

Taking care of our home and securing a livable environment for the next generation must be a priority, but it doesn’t have to be scary.

Jessica Octavio is a senior studying microbiology. You can follow her on Twitter @jessicaoctavio_.