Skoog: Inheriting a dying world; fixing it with a broken system

“What would the world look like if every person behaved like you?”

by Caroline Skoog

“What would the world look like if every person behaved like you?” 

A rhetorical question often posed to young individuals, the golden rule remains customary for many Americans. The beauty of the golden rule is its application of empathy to various scenarios, interpersonal and environmental. 

Individual accountability emerges in creative ways when dealing with environmental concerns. For instance, the choice of paper or plastic bags, which often feels like a trick question, or the choice to carry a reusable straw. Although minor deeds, these all reflect conscious efforts to reduce one’s negative impact on the environment. A lot of these climate-conscious tips for the individual begin and end at the store. When you leave the store with groceries packed in paper, the plastic bag you passed up still exists.

Born into a world of melting chaos, Millennials, and now Generation Z, have no conception of life without climate change. Neither do most of our grandparents, since the global temperature has been rising since the start of the Industrial Era. 

In the first grade, I cried on Earth Day. The teacher gave a relatively light-hearted presentation on global warming, and it scared me to tears. It felt cumbersome: “How could they have let it get this bad?” I thought, not quite sure who “they” were. My teacher calmed me down by letting me know I could help the situation: buying eco-friendly light-bulbs, choosing paper over plastic and drinking from a reusable water bottle. 

We learn at an early age that the most powerful thing about us is our status as consumers.

Employing the golden rule, it’s difficult to understand one’s agency in climate change. We were born into a decaying environment, given plastic happy meal toys and plastic foam take-out boxes, only to learn that this inherited lifestyle perpetuates the problem. 

We are responsible for undoing the insurmountable damage of administrations and corporations. These institutions are treating climate change like it’s a “check engine” light when the car is already on fire. 

The current administration has completed nine rollbacks on policies meant to regulate the drilling and oil extraction industry, such as loosening offshore drilling regulations, according to a June New York Times piece. It’s also altered dozens of other federal policies protecting the environment, in effect, easing up on fossil fuel corporations. However, offshore drilling feels especially relevant as new, considerably larger estimates of an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico were announced last week. What was initially thought to be releasing three to four gallons of oil a day has actually been leaking up to 4,500 gallons into the ocean each day. 

How did Dawn brand themselves before hosing oil off of ducks?

I cannot fathom living in a world that isn’t dying — because I never have. Similarly, I can’t propose any economic plans or fleshed-out strategies to solve this because there is no point in history that has the answer; we are the products of a system that enabled assured destruction, that gave us problems and no answers. It’s difficult to make sense of the world when all you understand is your culpability in its destruction and your obligation to fix it. 

I still feel as snot-nosed and helpless as Earth Day in first grade. I think most of the population does too, considering broadcast networks’ coverage of climate change dropped 45 percent last year, according to a study by Media Matters for America.

On the other hand, the first two democratic debates including climate change as a subject is a glimmer of hope compared to the blatant lack of coverage during the 2016 presidential election. 

However, it isn’t enough.

I understand, as the generation who will face the brunt of climate change and all of its uncertainties, that it’s up to us. Reusable straws and tote bags are a nice Band-Aid, but the barriers in place to keep individuals out of the overall decision-making regarding industry-scale contributions are undeniable. It’s time for drastic measures. In order for younger generations to implement policies, take action, and combat climate change as well as its impacts, we need to have a framework or direction to point to. We need people in power practicing what they’re preaching, and we need them to preach about alternative energy sources – fast.