What I’ve learned in my studies since undergrad is that most of the world is beginning to step up and combat climate change. In order for a country to combat climate change though, they need to resolve other conflicts or issues. As a result, First World countries are the most able to contribute their efforts to fighting climate change, and it’s clear our country needs to step up.
I grew up in Earlham, Iowa, a town of 1400 people. The schools I attended had core curriculums centered around agriculture, but none of them mentioned climate change. In fact, it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I first heard about climate change. One of my biology professors at Central College taught us about prairies and the native Iowa landscape that thrived before we destroyed it to make room for agriculture. He taught us that converting vast plots of land from their natural state to agricultural uses contributes to climate change, and I remember feeling so angry. Why were we letting this happen? It was like a fire had started inside of me.
I had planned on majoring in biochemistry at Central College, but after learning about what climate change was doing to our planet, I decided to pursue double majors in Environmental Studies and Biology. As I took more classes, I began to realize how quickly climate change is occurring and recognize its effects on my own life. We see strange and extreme weather events year after year, like the highly-damaging derecho, or wind storm, that blew through the middle of Iowa this year. It wasn’t until I started taking classes in Environmental Studies that I realized things like this are connected to climate change. Without some kind of background or awareness of climate change, it’s difficult for many people to make the connection between climate change and their own lives, which is why it’s so important to teach about climate change in schools.
Now, I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography, which goes hand-in-hand with Environmental Studies. What I’ve learned in my studies since undergrad is that most of the world is beginning to step up and combat climate change. In order for a country to combat climate change though, they need to resolve other conflicts or issues. As a result, First World countries are the most able to contribute their efforts to fighting climate change, and it’s clear our country needs to step up. A lot needs to change in the United States. We need to put our country back into the Paris Climate Agreement and hold ourselves accountable as one of the biggest air and water polluters in the world. That’s step one as a country.
On a smaller level, each and every state needs to focus on mitigating climate change in a relevant and meaningful way. For example, Iowa is paving the way for wind power. Midamerican Energy in Iowa uses windmills to provide over 60% of its consumers’ needs, and is working towards 100% renewable energy. The growing presence of windmills has received a lot of backlash from small farmers, and I sympathize with them, having grown up in Erlam. However, I’ve also learned about how great wind energy is--how cost-effective and clean it is-- so it’s hard for me to “pick a side”. In the long run though, a transition to clean energy, including wind energy, is best for us if we want to effectively combat climate change.
As my favorite Biology professor says, achieving a goal takes “a billion tiny steps”. Obviously, big changes need to be made everywhere to stop climate change, but that should not make us overlook the smaller steps that still need to be taken. These are things like being conscious of where your products come from--are they Fair Trade? Do they require extensive resources to make, like jeans? Was it made without harsh chemicals being dumped into the environment? Could it be thrifted instead of bought new? Even getting your own compost bin, and recycling (not every town has it!), is a tiny step in the right direction, and an expression of hope. Nowadays it’s hard to be hopeful because of the pandemic and our political climate. I am hopeful in spite of our reality, thanks to all the young people who realize how severe climate change is and are making a difference for Iowa and for the nation through the accumulation of billions of steps, huge and tiny.