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Our Future Is Now - A Climate Change Essay by Francesca Minicozzi, '21

Francesca Minicozzi (class of 2021) is a Writing/Biology major who plans to study medicine after graduation. She wrote this essay on climate change for WR 355/Travel Writing, which she took while studying abroad in Newcastle in spring 2020. Although the coronavirus pandemic curtailed Francesca’s time abroad, her months in Newcastle prompted her to learn more about climate change.

Terre Ryan
Associate Professor, Writing Department

Our Future Is Now

By Francesca Minicozzi, '21
Writing and Biology Major

 “If you don’t mind me asking, how is the United States preparing for climate change?” my flat mate, Zac, asked me back in March, when we were both still in Newcastle. He and I were accustomed to asking each other about the differences between our home countries; he came from Cambridge, while I originated in Long Island, New York. This was one of our numerous conversations about issues that impact our generation, which we usually discussed while cooking dinner in our communal kitchen. In the moment of our conversation, I did not have as strong an answer for him as I would have liked. Instead, I informed him of the few changes I had witnessed within my home state of New York.

Francesca Minicozzi, '21I replied, “Well, I don’t know as much about climate change in the US as I should, but over the past few years I have seen a lot more homes on Long Island convert to solar energy.” I went on to inform him that many Americans have switched to energy efficient light bulbs within their homes. “I don’t have any exact statistics about this,” I rambled on, “but I know that a strong portion of families on Long Island have converted to energy efficient households, my home included.”

Zac’s response was consistent with his normal, diplomatic self. “I have been following the BBC news in terms of the climate crisis for the past few years. The U.K. has been working hard to transition to renewable energy sources. Similar to the United States, here in the United Kingdom we have converted over to solar panels too. My home does not have solar panels, but a lot of our neighbors have switched to solar energy in the past few years.”

“Our two countries are similar, yet so different,” I thought. Our conversation continued as we prepared our meals, with topics ranging from climate change to the upcoming presidential election to Britain’s exit from the European Union. However, I could not shake the fact that I knew so little about a topic so crucial to my generation.

After I abruptly returned home from the United Kingdom because of the global pandemic, my conversation with my flat mate lingered in my mind. Before the coronavirus surpassed climate change headlines, I had seen the number of internet postings regarding protests to protect the planet dramatically increase. Yet the idea of our planet becoming barren and unlivable in a not-so-distant future had previously upset me to the point where a part of me refused to deal with it. After I returned from studying abroad, I decided to educate myself on the climate crisis.

My quest for climate change knowledge required a thorough understanding of the difference between “climate change” and “global warming.” Climate change is defined as “a pattern of change affecting global or regional climate,” based on “average temperature and rainfall measurements” as well as the frequency of extreme weather events.1  These varied temperature and weather events link back to both natural incidents and human activity.2  Likewise, the term global warming was coined “to describe climate change caused by humans.”3  Not only that, but global warming is most recently attributed to an increase in “global average temperature,” mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans.4

I next questioned why the term “climate change” seemed to take over the term “global warming” in the United States. According to Frank Luntz, a leading Republican consultant, the term “global warming” functions as a rather intimidating phrase. During George W. Bush’s first presidential term, Luntz argued in favor of using the less daunting phrase “climate change” in an attempt to overcome the environmental battle amongst Democrats and Republicans.5  Since President Bush’s term, Luntz remains just one political consultant out of many politicians who has recognized the need to address climate change. In an article from 2019, Luntz proclaimed that political parties aside, the climate crisis affects everyone. Luntz argued that politicians should steer clear of trying to communicate “the complicated science of climate change,” and instead engage voters by explaining how climate change personally impacts citizens with natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires.6  He even suggested that a shift away from words like “sustainability” would gear Americans towards what they really want: a “cleaner, safer, healthier” environment.7

The idea of a cleaner and heathier environment remains easier said than done. The Paris Climate Agreement, introduced in 2015, began the United Nations’ “effort to combat global climate change.”8  This agreement marked a global initiative to “limit global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels,” while simultaneously “pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.”9   Every country on earth has joined together in this agreement for the common purpose of saving our planet.10  So, what could go wrong here? As much as this sounds like a compelling step in the right direction for climate change, President Donald Trump thought otherwise. In June 2017, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement with his proclamation of climate change as a “’hoax’ perpetrated by China.”11  President Trump continued to question the scientific facts behind climate change, remaining an advocate for the expansion of domestic fossil fuel production.12  He reversed environmental policies implemented by former President Barack Obama to reduce fossil fuel use.13

Trump’s actions against the Paris Agreement, however, fail to represent the beliefs of Americans as a whole. The majority of American citizens feel passionate about the fight against climate change. To demonstrate their support, some have gone as far as creating initiatives including America’s Pledge and We Are Still In.14  Although the United States officially exited the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020, this withdrawal may not survive permanently.15  According to experts, our new president “could rejoin in as short as a month’s time.”16  This offers a glimmer of hope.

The Paris Agreement declares that the United States will reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 26 to 28 percent by the year 2025.17  As a leader in greenhouse gas emissions, the United States needs to accept the climate crisis for the serious challenge that it presents and work together with other nations. The concept of working coherently with all nations remains rather tricky; however, I remain optimistic. I think we can learn from how other countries have adapted to the increased heating of our planet. During my recent study abroad experience in the United Kingdom, I was struck by Great Britain’s commitment to combatting climate change.

Since the United Kingdom joined the Paris Agreement, the country targets a “net-zero” greenhouse gas emission for 2050.18  This substantial alteration would mark an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases from 1990, if “clear, stable, and well-designed policies are implemented without interruption.”19  In order to stay on top of reducing emissions, the United Kingdom tracks electricity and car emissions, “size of onshore and offshore wind farms,” amount of homes and “walls insulated, and boilers upgraded,” as well as the development of government policies, including grants for electric vehicles.20  A strong grip on this data allows the United Kingdom to target necessary modifications that keep the country on track for 2050. In my brief semester in Newcastle, I took note of these significant changes. The city of Newcastle is small enough that many students and faculty are able to walk or bike to campus and nearby essential shops. However, when driving is unavoidable, the majority of the vehicles used are electric, and many British citizens place a strong emphasis on carpooling to further reduce emissions. The United Kingdom’s determination to severely reduce greenhouse emissions is ambitious and particularly admirable, especially as the United States struggles to shy away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

So how can we, as Americans, stand together to combat global climate change? Here are five adjustments Americans can make to their homes and daily routines that can dramatically make a difference:

  1. Stay cautious of food waste. Studies demonstrate that “Americans throw away up to 40 percent of the food they buy.”21  By being more mindful of the foods we purchase, opting for leftovers, composting wastes, and donating surplus food to those in need, we can make an individual difference that impacts the greater good.22  
  2. Insulate your home. Insulation functions as a “cost-effective and accessible” method to combat climate change.23  Homes with modern insulation reduce energy required to heat them, leading to a reduction of emissions and an overall savings; in comparison, older homes can “lose up to 35 percent of heat through their walls.”24  
  3. Switch to LED Lighting. LED stands for “light-emitting diodes,” which use “90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and half as much as compact fluorescents.”25  LED lights create light without producing heat, and therefore do not waste energy. Additionally, these lights have a longer duration than other bulbs, which means they offer a continuing savings.26 
  4. Choose transportation wisely. Choose to walk or bike whenever the option presents itself. If walking or biking is not an option, use an electric or hybrid vehicle which emits less harmful gases. Furthermore, reduce the number of car trips taken, and carpool with others when applicable. 
  5. Finally, make your voice heard. The future of our planet remains in our hands, so we might as well use our voices to our advantage. Social media serves as a great platform for this. Moreover, using social media to share helpful hints to combat climate change within your community or to promote an upcoming protest proves beneficial in the long run. If we collectively put our voices to good use, together we can advocate for change.

As many of us are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these suggestions are slightly easier to put into place. With numerous “stay-at-home” orders in effect, Americans have the opportunity to make significant achievements for climate change. Personally, I have taken more precautions towards the amount of food consumed within my household during this pandemic. I have been more aware of food waste, opting for leftovers when too much food remains. Additionally, I have realized how powerful my voice is as a young college student. Now is the opportunity for Americans to share how they feel about climate change. During this unprecedented time, our voice is needed now more than ever in order to make a difference.

However, on a much larger scale, the coronavirus outbreak has shed light on reducing global energy consumption. Reductions in travel, both on the roads and in the air, have triggered a drop in emission rates. In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts a 6 percent decrease in energy consumption around the globe for this year alone.27  This drop is “equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India.”28  Complete lockdowns have lowered the global demand for electricity and slashed CO2 emissions. However, in New York City, the shutdown has only decreased carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent.29  This proves that a shift in personal behavior is simply not enough to “fix the carbon emission problem.”30  Climate policies aimed to reduce fossil fuel production and promote clean technology will be crucial steppingstones to ameliorating climate change effects. Our current reduction of greenhouse gas emissions serves as “the sort of reduction we need every year until net-zero emissions are reached around 2050.”31  From the start of the coronavirus pandemic, politicians came together for the common good of protecting humanity; this demonstrates that when necessary, global leaders are capable of putting humankind above the economy.32

After researching statistics comparing the coronavirus to climate change, I thought back to the moment the virus reached pandemic status. I knew that a greater reason underlay all of this global turmoil. Our globe is in dire need of help, and the coronavirus reminds the world of what it means to work together. This pandemic marks a turning point in global efforts to slow down climate change. The methods we enact towards not only stopping the spread of the virus, but slowing down climate change, will ultimately depict how humanity will arise once this pandemic is suppressed. The future of our home planet lies in how we treat it right now. 

 
Footnotes
  1. “Climate Change: What Do All the Terms Mean?,” BBC News (BBC, May 1, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48057733)
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Kate Yoder, “Frank Luntz, the GOP's Message Master, Calls for Climate Action,” Grist (Grist, July 26, 2019), https://grist.org/article/the-gops-most-famous-messaging-strategist-calls-for-climate-action
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Ibid. 
  8. Melissa Denchak, “Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know,” NRDC, April 29, 2020, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know)
  9. Ibid. 
  10. Ibid. 
  11. Ibid.
  12. “Donald J. Trump's Foreign Policy Positions,” Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations), accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/election2020/candidate-tracker/donald-j.-trump?gclid=CjwKCAjw4871BRAjEiwAbxXi21cneTRft_doA5if60euC6QCL7sr-Jwwv76IkgWaUTuyJNx9EzZzRBoCdjsQAvD_BwE#climate and energy)
  13. Ibid. 
  14. Ibid. 
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid. 
  17. David Doniger, “Paris Climate Agreement Explained: Does Congress Need to Sign Off?,” NRDC, December 15, 2016, https://www.nrdc.org/experts/david-doniger/paris-climate-agreement-explained-does-congress-need-sign)
  18. “How the UK Is Progressing,” Committee on Climate Change, March 9, 2020, https://www.theccc.org.uk/what-is-climate-change/reducing-carbon-emissions/how-the-uk-is-progressing/)
  19. Ibid. 
  20. Ibid.  
  21. “Top 10 Ways You Can Fight Climate Change,” Green America, accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.greenamerica.org/your-green-life/10-ways-you-can-fight-climate-change)
  22. Ibid. 
  23. Ibid. 
  24. Ibid.  
  25. Ibid. 
  26. Ibid. 
  27. Matt McGrath, “Climate Change and Coronavirus: Five Charts about the Biggest Carbon Crash,” BBC News (BBC, May 5, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/science-environment-52485712)
  28. Ibid. 
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.