When we flip on the light switch, charge our phones, or do the laundry, we generally do not give it a second thought.
But the amount of energy required to fuel our lives is astonishing. Most of the energy in the U.S. is not derived from renewables. Around 82 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels — namely oil, gas, and coal. These dirty, finite sources of energy release heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and are responsible for dangerously accelerating the warming of our planet.
What does this mean for the people of the world, especially the poor? It does not take an elaborate research study — though many have been done — to see that the communities most damaged by climate change are those of color and low socioeconomic status. The symptoms of climate change are evident in the most economically vulnerable communities.
Across the world, the poor are suffering disproportionately from the consequences of natural degradation, air and water pollution, lack of access to healthy food, poor environmental regulation, and rising sea levels. This trend is not at all coincidental. These are serious environmental justice issues that demand our attention.
In the last year alone, our country experienced record-breaking heat, droughts, and hurricanes, which impacted hundreds of thousands of people and cost our country billions of dollars. As climate change intensifies, economically struggling people will be forced to bear the additional burden of extreme climate-related events. As glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt, people living on islands and coasts will be the first to experience the catastrophe of rising waters. Many millions around the world’s coasts may be displaced in the coming years, and many will perish.
The urgent need for curbing fossil fuel consumption has motivated a group of USF students to start a divestment campaign, which is asking our university to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. The group goes by the name of “Fossil Free USF”, and can be found on Facebook. A petition to express support for the campaign has been circulating the campus and is gaining momentum.
With Earth Day around the corner, one way to celebrate is to take some time to reflect on our own habits, explore ways to cut down on our energy consumption, learn more about environmental justice issues, and write to our elected officials demanding that they implement policies that safeguard disenfranchised people and their environmental security. We cannot sit back and rely on the government to offer timely protection to the people who need it most. To those communities, climate change is more than just a possibility. It’s here, and it’s affecting them now. We need to rise up in the face of climate change denial and stand
by our fellow human beings in pursuit of justice.