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For the kids

| Friday, February 21, 2020

Growing up in Northern California, natural disasters always just seemed like an unavoidable fact of life.
Some of my earliest memories of going to school include monthly earthquake and fire drills that ensured we were ready and prepared no matter what inevitable tragedy we were faced with. As we hid under our desks, we truly believed that we would be safe and that we were ready for whatever was bound to happen.
Throughout the entirety of my time in middle school, we were in a drought. Short showers, water restrictions and brown grass never seemed like anything out of the ordinary. We would even have class competitions on who could take the most bucket showers or shortest showers in general.
The worst fires I remember were in high school. Instead of snow days, we had smoke days because the smoke outside was detrimental to public health even if you were just outside for a few minutes. Once some of the worst fires were contained, my family visited the wine country a little to the north, and the images of blackened hills still haunt me.
This past fall, new fires tore through Northern California, and PG&E, the company that provides power to the majority of homes and businesses in the Bay Area, determined they were not equipped to deal with the aftermath and complications of the fires like hefty winds. Their solution was to shut off the power and leave thousands literally in the dark. Without power, people were unable to do their jobs, use air conditioning to maintain the right temperatures during the simultaneous heat waves or go about their daily lives.
In elementary school, I was taught that these tragedies were just a fact of life, but as I have spent more time learning and growing, I now have a better understanding of the truth. While some of these events are bound to happen, the recent increase and expansion in disasters, including 15 of California’s 20 largest fires since I was born in 2000, is due to climate change, and we can do something to stop them.
The United States’ carbon emissions are one of the largest contributions to climate change in our world. We as a nation are second in the world for countries that emit the most carbon, yet President Trump announced we will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord that sets emission limits on all nations who sign. With the United States pulling out, now only 80%, instead of 97%, of the greenhouse gas emissions nationwide will be regulated by the Paris Agreement. This impacts thousands of communities like mine who will continue to suffer through extreme weather events and other climate-related tragedies.
Specifically, the California wildfires are perpetuated by the dry soil and vegetation due to longer seasons of drought caused by excess carbon emissions, like those from the United States. It is imperative that the United States rejoins the global community in fighting for environmental protections to secure the future of our community and the world.
By rejoining the Accord, the United States takes a step closer to informing young elementary school children, like I once was, that these tragic events are not just a fact of life, but rather are due to climate change and mostly avoidable if the right steps are taken. This tells these children that their lives are worth protecting and that their future is just as valuable as ours. Rejoining shows a willingness to both educate this next generation and to ensure that the world is accessible to the next generation, so that they can protect it for generations to come. We can no longer hide under our desks and think we’ll be okay. We need to act.
But how do we do that? Right now, the simplest pursuit of climate protection is voting for candidates willing to promote legislation supporting reduced emissions. Be it for local representatives or for our upcoming 2020 presidential election, voting for these candidates, even if they do not ultimately succeed, relays the message that we care about our future and want to enable the planet to serve for many generations to come. Simple, but effective, a vote is the logical next step we must take to show our care for our world and its children.
Madeline Whitney
Feb. 16

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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