Weather has always been a central part of my life. It terrified me at age four, amazed me at age 10, and got me into college at age 17. (Yes, the topic of my Common App essay was me and weather.)
I’m not going to go into my admiration and love for weather, since this piece would become too long to publish. Instead, I’m going to talk about how weather still terrifies me.
And it’s your fault.
The biggest danger we face today isn’t gun violence, election interference, North Korea, or Donald Trump. It’s climate change.
What will you do with this paper when you’re done reading it? Will you throw it away or recycle it? When you left your room today, did you leave any lights on? When you use the bathroom, do you leave the water running unnecessarily?
It’s habits like these that fall in line with our current view of sustainability. But even if you’re doing your best to conserve water and electricity and be involved in sustainable practices, it isn’t nearly enough.
Our planet is dying. It’s practically on life support. And if we don’t do anything, our current efforts will equate to hospice.
Despite the denials of many people both inside and outside of our government, there is clear evidence that our climate is changing. And it’s impacting us both at home and at school.
The past 27 years in Rochester have been snowier and warmer than the entire period from 1940 to 1989.
The number of years with an average temperature above 50 degrees in Rochester has doubled. In the past 27 years, we’ve had 18 years with more than 100 inches of snowfall. In the 50 years prior, only 13 years exceeded 100 inches of snowfall. (Though it is important to note that the two snowiest seasons were during this period too.)
There is a correlation between temperature and amount of snowfall in Rochester. When we have milder winters, the Great Lakes may not freeze over entirely, paving the way for more lake-effect snowfall.
This winter may very well follow a similar pattern. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center’s forecast for this winter is for warmer than average temperatures and more precipitation than average.
Recent events are perhaps the starkest reminder that something is horribly off.
Just in the past few months, dozens have died in one of the most expansive wildfire seasons on record. The National Interagency Fire Center lists the total acreage burned this year at over 8.8 million, the third-highest amount burned at this point in the year in the past decade. It’s already one of the five worst fire seasons since current data reporting methods began in 1983.
This year alone, six tropical systems have impacted U.S. states and territories. Four were major hurricanes and three of those four made landfall. It doesn’t take knowledge of disaster recovery processes to know that we will still be recovering from these storms for years after I graduate, and we don’t even know how many more of them there will be.
Even now, we continue to hear about Puerto Rico — where power has not been fully restored and where media outlets are reporting that in some places the cleanest, safest water is from hazardous waste sites.
So what can we do? At this point, it seems like nothing will be able to prevent this planet from going to ruin.
I don’t have all the answers. The true solutions to these problems are years away.
But that means that we’re the generation that will be responsible for saving the planet. In a few years, nearly all of us will have graduated and started our careers.
But you can start right now.
If you’re an engineer, why not start thinking about how you can make sustainable products so when you innovate, you’re helping to protect the environment?
These solutions don’t stop within engineering. If you’re learning a language, you could become the bridge between several countries hoping to collaborate on sustainable solutions. If you’re studying public policy, political science, or international relations, you could be responsible for implementing these changes in the future. If you’re in art, music, or involved in another type of expressive discipline, perhaps climate change will factor into your work.
And to the Board of Trustees and University leadership, if you’re reading this, please consider making a sustainability course a graduation requirement for every major.
Even giving the issue a few minutes of thought every day can make a big difference in the future.
Most importantly, we have to work together on this. This is an issue that requires us to set aside our political views. This is an issue that requires us to act now, because tomorrow could be too late to act.
The world is in your hands.
Correction (11/4/17): The original version of this article referenced the “Board of Directors.” The author meant the Board of Trustees.