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The Time for Change is Now

social issues




The Time for Change is Now


*This article is a contribution from Edgeri Hudlin, Class of 2017.

At Duke we take pride in caring about all the world’s many issues and problems. Now please pardon this shameless pun, but speaking of “World” do we care about the earth? I mean actually care? Perhaps I speak for myself but outside of the instances where I distinguish recyclable objects from refuse and turn the faucet off whilst I brush my teeth, I rarely ponder the implications of my choices on this planet.

When I think of “Earth,” I think of a globe shaped mass of water and dirt that I have little control over. The flaw in this thinking is that earth is not simply a mass, but rather it is a home of people, and my actions do impact the wellbeing of this home. In order to take care of our home, we must ensure that all people in it have the proper tools to actively engage in sustaining it. We must make sure everyone has a stake in the maintenance of this planet because if we do not, eventually we will have nothing left. Trust me, I am typically the one laughing loudest at alarmist statements. Once a friend told me soda causes cancer and I nearly choked on my Sprite because I was cackling so hard. But the urgency of global warming and the deterioration of our planet is no joke. In this battle against climate change, we are currently losing.

Sustainability is not simply about planting trees and riding bikes, it is about survival.

According to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the average temperature is 0.87 degrees Celsius. That is a drastic increase from what it was in the mid 60’s or even 2000’s. The amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere has been on a steady rise and is now almost double what it was in the 1950’s with a measurement of 404.94 parts per million (ppm). Increasing temperatures and heightened levels of CO2 in the atmosphere on a steady upward trend is a slowly firing up microwave soon to explode. There is only so much heat the earth can take.

We are also running out of water. 35 percent of our water consumption comes from underground water also referred to as Aquifers. According to NASA satellite data, 21 of the world’s largest aquifers “have passed their sustainability tipping points.” In other words, we are using more than is being put back. And as the planet continues to heat aquifers will become a more essential source of water. Brushing your teeth without the faucet running might soon be mandatory and not a noble sacrifice. Sustainability is not simply about planting trees and riding bikes, it is about survival.

In order to achieve full sustainability it is first imperative that we create decent work and economic restructuring. We need to create jobs with decent work conditions in innovative industries that do not depend on the finite resources the earth has to offer. Our Economy needs to free itself of dependence on fossil fuels and coal so that other nations are not coerced into making extraction of these fuel sources the central focus of their labor economies, which is harmful to the laborers.

In America this looks like investing in clean sources of energy which both create employment but also permanently alleviate carbon emissions. A great example of this is the Stanford Plan that Bill McKibben references in his piece titled “A World at War.” Stanford Civil engineering Professor Mark Z. Jacobson conducted a research study in which he found that states in the US have a tremendous capacity to utilize renewable energy sources like solar panels on roofs, and wind turbines in open spaces. McKibben notes; “Jacobson’s work demonstrates conclusively that America could generate 80 to 85 percent of its power from sun, wind, and water by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.” This would require very little actual land for solar power plants and wind turbines, and on top of that we could conquer Global Warming. Jacobson writes, “If we move quickly enough to meet the goal of 80 percent clean power by 2030, then the world’s carbon dioxide levels would fall below the relative safety of 350 parts per million by the end of the century.” We would need to generate 6,448 gigawatts of energy to replace fossil fuels.

Switching our manufacturing focus from gas guzzling cars and gadgets to solar panel and wind turbine production would be a big step. We would create a booming clean industrial labor foundation, in an industry safer and more lucrative than the coal mining industry. Decent work means supplying people with jobs that pay a living wage but also prioritize worker safety and wellbeing. Retraining the thousands of coal miners (who go into mines at health risk) to become experts in a clean and renewable energy industry would be sustainable both for the planet and for the people.

Now, maybe you think this whole Stanford plan seems idealistic and infeasible. To that I say, maybe you are right, but it is undeniably time to entertain plans to restructure our economy to improve our planet rather than further destroy it. Progressives across the spectrum of issues we face must unite under the concept of sustainability and understand the fact that resource depletion would make all matters worse. All social issues get worse when water becomes scarce. The earth is our home, let us start treating it like it is.

Mckibben, Bill. "A World At War." N.p., 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.
Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2011. Print.