By Heather Navarro
Former Executive Director of Missouri Coalition for the Environment
Ed. Note: This article is part of our continuing series of posts in support of the Pax Christi USA Statement of Principles for the 2020 Elections. To read more about the 2020 elections, visit our Elections 2020 – #VotePax webpage.
It can be difficult to wrap our minds around all of the ways a changing climate touches us and the scope of action that is needed to protect people and our planet. Polar bears on melting glaciers was the rallying cry when I was in college. Then it was the news of island nations slowly being swallowed by the sea. Today, we watch wildfires rage and hurricanes trample the coast, and the science tells us time and time again that these tragedies are connected to climate change.
Here, where I write from St. Louis, landlocked in the middle of the country where there are no polar bears (save for the few at the zoo), no fear of hurricanes or wildfires, climate change is nevertheless altering our daily lives and threatening human life. And no matter what we do about it on a city, county, or even state level, it won’t be enough. We need national leadership.
While the big events capture headlines, it’s easy to forget that for every day the temperature hovers around 100 degrees, more people are hospitalized because they can’t breathe or they can’t afford air conditioning. For every day the growing season is interrupted by flooding, spring freezing, or increased pests, we lose part of our food supply. Although flooding is common and natural in many parts of the nation, we are experiencing devastating floods in what should be dry times and in much greater frequencies and intensities. The people most affected are those who can’t afford to move to higher ground or pay higher utility and food prices.
As the climate changes, the very foundations of our societies start to tremble and crack. We can’t grow the crops we’ve been growing for centuries; our utility bills now take up more of our monthly budget; and our infrastructure, built to withstand certain amounts of rainfall or snow, needs to be re-planned and rebuilt.
All of these efforts require immediate action AND long-term planning. We need leadership that understands the decades of science and study that tell us what is causing climate change and who is most at risk. This means leadership who will take bold action to reduce the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet and protect the housing and health of people most affected.
This crisis was not caused by one country and cannot be solved by one. The United States, as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita, must engage and collaborate with other world leaders to protect current and future generations from the worst effects of climate change.
Adapting to these changes requires resilience — and therein lies the great injustice of climate change. The more financial and political power one has, the more resilient they are in the face of climate change. If you can move out of the floodplain to higher ground, purchase an electric vehicle, access health care and insurance to handle an extended allergy season, or escape the sweltering heat of the city to get fresh air and rest to lower your heart rate, ease your mind, and nurture your body and spirit, you can adapt to climate change. Millions of people around the world have already been affected by climate change, losing their homes, their neighborhoods, their livelihood, and even their lives. The delay in action itself is an injustice. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color suffer disproportionately from climate change and those in power have been able to avoid or adapt to the changes while leaving others to suffer. We can’t wait any longer for action.
There are things we can do to transition away from fossil fuels that are causing climate change while providing quality jobs, making energy more affordable, and ensuring that everyone has access to healthy food. Climate action must focus on those already suffering and prioritize those most at-risk and least able to adapt. The leadership we choose in November matters to all of us, no matter whether we live on the coast or in the middle of the country. The choices made in the next four years will stay with us for the next 40 and beyond.