Ignoring climate change is the wrong moral choice 

We all understood that we were supposed to be helping our Earth. 

Lyanne Wang, Acalanes High School

  In second grade, we learned to pick up litter wherever we saw it. In fifth grade, we learned to walk instead of drive to school. In eighth grade, we learned to refrain from using plastic items. 

   How many of us do these things today?

   Over the years, we learned to ignore. In the blur of our daily lives, we learned to ignore our knowledge that we have a duty to combat climate change, and we learned to ignore our knowledge that climate change exists. 

   This intangible pattern of refusing acknowledgement of our own knowledge is one that must end; we must reawaken our morals and remember that each action we take has an impact on our environment.

   In elementary school, we learned about the right things to do for our environment: recycle, turn off the faucet quickly, walk or bike whenever possible, pick up trash when see it, stop using plastic straws. Most of us nodded our heads along and even wrote our own lists of how we would help Mother Earth. I remember that in my barely legible second grade handwriting, I scribbled down that I would pick up trash on the beach, shower quickly to use less water, and carpool to school with friends.

   Regardless of the goals that we set for ourselves, I am certain that there was no ambiguity in what we learned: We all understood that we were supposed to be helping our Earth. 

   For around two weeks, climate action was indeed at the forefront of my priorities. I picked up any trash that I saw on the playground, timed my showers, and even asked my neighbor to carpool to school.

   Fast forward four years, however, and climate action was most definitely not at the forefront of my priorities. As I battled my way into Stanley Middle School amidst the laborious combination of seeking out friends and keeping up with social norms, actions like picking up trash on playgrounds slipped out of my concern.

   Still, I could not fully ignore my morals because I soon learned about the Earth’s rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and suffering polar bears; in science class, the necessity of taking climate action once again entered the forefront of my thoughts, along with a muted sense of guilt. When I learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, my morals urged me to stop using plastic.

   However, outside of science class, these thoughts and feelings never remained for long.

   In our daily lives, there is no teacher that constantly reminds us of the disastrous reality of climate change, and in turn, it is difficult for us to remember why we should change an aspect of our life for the cause of climate change. 

   Although we all have the knowledge that sea levels are rising and that Earth’s temperatures are getting warmer and warmer, these occurrences do not impact our daily lives and thus it is easy to ignore their existence for our own comfort.

   As humans, we desire comfort, and ignoring our moral duty of combating climate change provides just that.

   It is far easier to buy a plastic pop-it toy when we ignore the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is easier to blast our heater when we ignore the melting glaciers of Antarctica, and it is easier to drive our car to school instead of walking or biking when we ignore the fact that Earth may pass the global warming threshold as soon as 2027.

   In effect, our subconscious attempts to justify these actions that our morals perceive as wrong. We begin to tell ourselves that we had to buy the pop-it toy because we needed it to relieve stress, that we had to blast our heater because we could not find a sweatshirt, and that we had to take the five minute drive to school because we were going to be late if we walked.

   We come up with a plethora of excuses to relieve ourselves from the guilt of our inaction.

   In avoidance of guilt, we start to ignore the larger picture of climate change so that we can ignore the smaller picture: how our own actions impact climate change. We strip away the idea that our actions have any impact on the environment by refusing to think about the environment as a whole. We rid the importance of the present.

   This pattern of inaction and excuses only fosters more guilt and must come to an end.

   Ultimately, my frustration does not lie in our inaction; it lies in our desire for ignorance, for guilt only comes with knowledge. We wish to stay in a blissful state of ignorance where we do not have to combat climate change, but we cannot do so without feeling guilt because we know that we know what the right thing to do is.

   I believe that we are all aware of climate change. I believe that we understand that we must combat climate change. I believe that we understand the necessity of taking action, now. I believe that we all know the right thing to do, but we ignore our morals because it is the easier thing to do.

   Still, I acknowledge that the common idleness in combating climate change is not always a result of selfish desires to do what is most comfortable for ourselves; often, we truly forget about the urgency of the climate crisis as years go on.

   While it is not our fault to sometimes forget, it is our fault when we ignore the topic entirely. I cannot say that every person ignores their morals or turns a blind eye on climate change, but I can tell you what I have seen on our own campus: 

   In the freshman quad, I have seen eight cardboard trays filled with half-empty milk cartons lying on the ground after lunch. In the junior quad, in between the Big and Small gym, I have seen students throw tangerines at each other without picking up the fruits’ remains afterwards. Next to the senior deck, I have seen students dump trash into the recycling bin without even noticing.

   Although each of these instances may appear to have no relation to taking climate action, we must reflect on these students’ mindsets: in the moment, they did not care about their actions nor consider that someone would have to suffer for their actions.

   Some time in the future, a janitor had to pick up eight cardboard trays, bend down and grab smashed tangerines with their hands, and reach into the recycling bin to remove trash – the students did not think that far, did they?

   I believe that the students did not throw tangerines at each other with the hopes of making a janitor clean the mess up, but they simply did not think about the effect of their actions in the heat of the moment. We cannot say that these students are fully at fault, but we can ask them to reawaken their morals and to remember that each action they take has an impact on their environment.

   For us, we know the impact of our actions. We know that if we continue to mindlessly use plastic products, millions of animals will suffer. We know that if we continue to excessively drive, air pollution will worsen and affect countless ecosystems. We know that if we do not change some aspect of our lifestyles, Earth will only continue to deteriorate.

    There will be times when we get caught up in our everyday lives and forget about the impact of our actions, and that is okay. However, if we remain in this state of forgetfulness forever, we are only striving for ignorance, and ignorance is something that we cannot have.

   We cannot pretend that we do not have the knowledge of climate change, and we cannot pretend that we do not have the knowledge that we must take action against climate change.

   Irrespective, it does not matter how long you have ignored or forgotten your knowledge of your duty to help our Earth, it only matters that you do not try to hide from this knowledge.

   Whether you are in second grade, fifth grade, eighth grade, or out of school, we each face countless opportunities to satisfy our morals, if only we will allow ourselves to listen to them. When you see a piece of litter, pick it up. When you exit your home each morning, consider walking or biking instead of driving. When you face the opportunity of whether or not to buy a plastic bottle of water, do not buy it.

   Beware of the small choices in your life, because they do affect our environment.

   In the end, you do not need to single-handedly reverse climate change, but if your lack of climate action is a result of you ignoring the existence of climate change, then you are at fault for the Earth’s decay.