By ISABELLE OUYANG
As Pittsburgh gets chillier, the global temperature is set to rise. So apparent are the looming consequences of climate change that even the Trump administration admitted the fact in an environmental impact statement released in August, as part of President Trump’s decision to rollback emission regulations. With current emissions levels, the prospects are gloomy. In the next century, the planet is slated to be four degrees Celsius (seven in Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial levels. That is, unless nations make drastic energy reforms.
Here’s the catch: the report uses this fact as a reason to produce more emissions. That’s right. Trump proposes to freeze fuel efficiency standards for car manufacturers, contingent on the argument that an additional eight billion additional tons of carbon dioxide is just a drop in the bucket amidst already high emission outputs– that climate destruction is already a lost cause.
How do we stay hopeful when the national dialogue about climate change can be so nihilistic?
Even climate advocates are faced with disheartening apocalyptic scenarios that feed into individual powerlessness: sea levels rising, intensified droughts and heat waves, worsening hurricanes and natural disasters. The terms “climate anxiety” and “environmental grief” appear in publications ranging from Scientific American to Vogue Magazine. Along with worsening mental health, climate change is even linked to increased community hostility and aggression. How do we retain our resilience, even when time, stress and even the presidential administration are working against us?
First, let’s recognize that extraction industries profit from a dialogue of collective powerlessness. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global carbon emissions. Yet, environmental burdens are levied on individual consumers to drive eco-friendly cars or go zero-waste. Cutting your carbon footprint is by no means pointless. But the narrative reduces an individual’s power to that of a consumer, rather than that of a citizen. It tells you that your power is restricted to your lifestyle, rather than in politics or corporate accountability.
Extraction industries quietly make off with large profits, without suffering consequences or limitations. But extraction industries aren’t the only profiting party. In 2018, Republican congress members accepted over $18 million in contributions from the oil and gas sector. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee reversed a unanimous resolution to ban campaign contributions from fossil fuel corporations after a mere two months, in order to accept money from employers (i.e. corporations) and PACs (political action committees) in the sector.
If the conservative administration’s analysis gets one thing right, it’s that higher fuel efficiency standards aren’t going to solve our climate crisis alone. But neither is skewing the facts to support the corporate interests of automakers. The administration’s refusal to acknowledge its role in collective efforts against climate change is strategic. It allows for corporations and the politicians that advocate for them to distance accountability.
If you’re searching for hope, look to people-minded people, and not profit-minded people. Movements to divest institutional money from fossil fuels are taking sizeable chunks of money away from the industry—7.19 trillion as of this year. Communities on the frontlines of climate change, who have already been hit by environmental damage, are working to protect our planet. Indigenous activists are mobilizing to form groups, like the L’Eau Est La Vie resistance camp in Louisiana, to protest the last stretch of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Early this year, one of the first Flint, Michigan activists won a Goldman Environmental Prize, along with five other international humanrights and environmental activists. In Pittsburgh around 100 people rallied for This is Zero Hour, a diverse youth-led national day of action. Protesters as young as 12 took the mic.
Those combating the status-quo of apathy and futility are doing so by joining forces with the people around them. According to an American Psychological Association statement about climate anxiety, even just using public transportation increases “community cohesion,” and reduces symptoms of depression and stress. Talking to your neighbors or community members who care as much as you do is a way to make your voices collectively louder. It’s also a way to feel less alone when the national dialogue wants you to feel this is an individual battle.
So, if you’re feeling powerless and fearful of the future, reach out to those around you, whether that means looking for existing efforts, getting involved in local advocacy groups, or bringing up shared concerns. You can’t fight climate change alone, and you don’t have to.
Isabelle Ouyang is a NewPeople Fellow.