It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend an institution like Duke. It is also incredibly easy to forget what is happening in other parts of the world: what we in Durham, and everyone everywhere, will soon feel too: the climate crisis. As Early Voting continues here at Duke and the Primary cycle takes over headlines, this crisis has to be by far the most important consideration when we cast our ballots.
I don’t generally believe in single-issue voting; I am not advocating for it. The climate crisis, while often portrayed as just one cause among many, is a matter of life and death, affecting every other issue on the ballot. Every month it becomes clearer that dozens of reports and projections about rising temperatures have been either accurate or too conservative. This past January was the warmest in recorded history. The four warmest Januarys have all occurred since 2016. As a result, those of us at Duke who hate the cold (myself included) got to enjoy a warm winter. But for billions of people around the world, climate change has manifested in dramatically different ways.
The unnaturally early wildfires that ravaged Australia earlier this year, killing dozens and permanently destroying entire ecosystems, were severely exacerbated by hot and dry conditions caused by climate change. Hurricanes, tropical storms and flooding will continue to increase in frequency and intensity along the Atlantic coast and worldwide, as those living in Puerto Rico and Houston, Texas already know far too well. Studies show that healthcare spending will rise rapidly in response to events caused or worsened by climate change, with 10 such events resulting in $10 billion in healthcare costs in 2012 alone. The Pentagon considers climate change a “threat multiplier,” recognizing that a billion climate change refugees could exist by the end of the century, causing food shortages and violence across the world. The world has already inadequately handled the refugee crisis in Syria—imagine the fallout from one the scale the climate crisis will cause.
All of this chaos—which barely scratches the surface of climate’s impact—will only get worse if we fail to systemically address the crisis. While some Duke students may never encounter the full extent of the climate crisis (although many certainly do), to think that we won’t be affected by it is naive. To think we can push it aside while others are suffering is simply cruel. Our privilege doesn’t allow us to see the crisis as the intersection of systemic inequality and racial injustice that it represents. Hurricane Irma practically wiped the Caribbean island Barbuda off the map. The poorest residents in coastal cities won’t be able to afford to move away as sea levels inevitably rise. So many already lack access to sufficient clean water, food and shelter, while many others profit off of the industries that have caused the crisis. I’ll pivot from the terrifying reality of the climate crisis before this column gets too dark, and turn to what we can do.
It is no longer enough for us to use our privilege to recycle or post something to our Instagram story. The stakes are too high for such passive activism. At the very least, we have the power to vote and to educate, and we must leverage that power.
Before you go to the polls, whether it be for the Democratic or Republican Primary or the General Election in November, make sure you consider what is at stake. Electing candidates who don’t even acknowledge climate change as a priority is ignorant at best, and selfish and short-sighted at worst. Given the scope of government inaction over the last two decades, even many candidates who do consider climate change an urgent priority don’t recognize the full extent of the crisis.
Whether you are voting for city council members or the President, know which candidates plan to truly address the most existential crisis we have ever faced and which do not. Check out scorecards drafted by environmental groups like the Sunrise Movement and Greenpeace. Amidst the noise of partisan politics, learn about the Green New Deal and support candidates who understand its importance. Educate your friends, family and everyone else you know. It doesn’t matter if they want you to stop bothering them about it (I know many of my friends do); complacency will prove far more burdensome.
Left versus right does not matter. The only issue that matters, the one that will determine the future of all other issues and all people, is the climate crisis. Vote like your life and all of our lives depend on it—because they do.
Robby Phillips is a Trinity first-year and a member of the Sunrise Movement.
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