Climate change cannot take precedence over other worldly problems

Megan Burnett

Climate change is a very precarious topic to discuss among intelligentsia.

If you question any of the science behind it, whether it be about the data or the validity of the claims made, you are cast out as a pariah and labeled a “science denier.” Because of this, other issues may be overshadowed by all of the noise generated by climate change, which has been placed at the front and center of present world issues by scientists, politicians and the media alike.

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The evidence for climate change is compelling. There is a general consensus among the scientific community that the earth’s temperature has risen by 1 degree Celsius over the last century, and this is caused in part by global industrialization. I am a science major myself, and I do not dispute these facts and data. Climate change is real, global temperatures are rising and humans do have something to do with it. However, the issue of climate change has become highly political in the last decade, and has created a rhetoric built off of emotion to gain attention from the non-skeptical public.

Policymakers in the United States insist that climate change is a “dire situation,” and world leaders must act immediately to prevent “global catastrophe.” Politicians and some scientists alike have created this artificial hierarchy of needs for the planet and its people, where addressing climate change sits as the No. 1 thing we need to take action on. This plays off well to folks who feel like they can make a difference for the environment with the simple cast of a vote.

The fact is, there are much more pressing issues globally that are more disastrous for humanity than climate change is, which need attention now. To developing countries, climate change is a first-world issue. We still live in a world where 50 percent of the global population has a water-borne illness at any given time, due to the fact that people still lack access to clean water. One fourth of people on Earth do not have access to electricity. The amount of electricity used in Sub-Saharan Africa  not including South Africa — in one day equals the usage of electricity in New York City in the same amount of time. People in these developing countries want health care and an education, not solar panels and wind turbines.

An idea that is often proposed for reducing carbon emissions is either imposing a carbon tax or a “cap and trade” system. All logistics aside, this may be a reasonable solution for a developed country. But would we impose those same tariffs on a person living in a third-world country, when coal is often the cheapest — and thereby the only viable — energy option? Is it more useful and helpful to implement sustainability policies or install water wells in these places? If not everyone in the world is living by the same standards where all basic needs are fulfilled, how can we solve the problem of climate change on a global scale, an issue of apparently devastating magnitude?

This is not to say that sustainability efforts are not valiant. We can all make a difference and positively impact the earth’s future by taking small steps to take care of the environment. Eating a vegetarian diet one to two days a week can help reduce carbon emissions — animal agriculture is one of the worst offenders of sustainability. Walking or taking the bus to work, saying “no” to plastic bags and recycling all seem like insignificant measures, but if everyone participates, we can help reduce harmful emissions without relying on government subsidies.

Perhaps instead of spending billions of dollars on policies such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, we can divert some of that money toward humanitarian efforts. Providing basic needs for people in the developing world would curb the amount of needless deaths each year due to poverty. Pulling these developing countries out of poverty would not only be good for humankind, but in the end it could help sustainability efforts by building economically-stable countries able to contribute to a clean energy initiative. To build a better world for tomorrow, we must first build a better world today, where people’s most basic needs are met.

Collegian Columnist Megan Burnett can be reached at hmcgill@collegian.com, or on Twitter @megsbcollegian.