Let’s Talk About the Environment


Alexa Schmidt’s parents in Yosemite National Park in California. ALEXA SCHMIDT / COURTESY

If you know me, you know that I love nature. I visited my first National Park when I was a tiny human; I want to say I was about six or seven years old. And I will never forget that experience. The grueling hike, the exhilarating feeling of getting to the final destination, and the extreme sense of insignificance. Hiking through Glacier, Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Tetons, Mesa Verde, Acadia and more parks have been some of my favorite memories, and I’m blessed to have had those experiences.

Growing up, I loved listening to my parent’s stories about their adventures out west, and I aspired to be like them. As they like to remind me, before they had kids, they traveled the country to see incredible views and enjoy each other’s company. They were the ones who educated me on the importance of the environment, and to protect the earth. I hope to share the same advice and stories with my kids one day.

Not to be completely dramatic, but maybe I won’t be able to. Climate change is real. And it is happening. A surge of newspaper articles popped up on my phone in the beginning of last week, after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on Monday, Oct. 8. I clicked on the first article I saw by the New York Times, with the headline, “Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040.” A promising headline for my Monday.

According to the article, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, consists of a group of scientists assembled by the United Nations to essentially give us, the public, the low-down on the environment. And our future looks devastating.

The prediction for the year 2040 is food shortages, wildfires, and coral reefs that cease to exist. If greenhouse gasses continue to emit at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The price tag on the damage from climate change comes to about $54 trillion.

To prevent this from happening, the article gave statistics. It stated, “To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. It also found that, by 2050, use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to between 1 and 7 percent. Renewable energy such as wind and solar, which make up about 20 percent of the electricity mix today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent.”

So what we’re talking about is a massive lifestyle change. Speaking from personal experience, I hate change. I like what’s familiar. But we are running out of time.

What we’re waiting for is a magical answer. We’re waiting for some significant scientific breakthrough that will solve everything. We’re waiting for Elon Musk to announce this awesome new technological invention that will reverse the destruction we’ve been inflicting on the earth for centuries. We’re waiting for a miracle.

Because let’s be real. Taking care of the environment is a hassle. The government doesn’t want to spend money on the environment, when there are other issues that are more critical, like poverty and human health. I’m taking environmental politics this semester, and I’ve learned about how hard it is to create policies, or even change old ones. It takes time, and it takes a lot of persuading. We need to voice what is important to the government, and they need to listen.

To protect our parks, our animals and habitats, our ecosystems and our earth, we have to really start taking action as a whole. It’s one thing to release reports, and speak about making changes, but it’s completely different to start implementing them. We need to educate ourselves as much as we can, and do everything in our power to save our beautiful earth.

I’m not saying that students at Manhattan College need to single-handedly save the environment, but tiny changes lead to bigger impacts. Print double-sided. Always recycle. Take shorter showers. Turn the lights off when you leave the room. Reuse plastic bags. Simple things that have been stressed over and over, but things that are easy to forget. I have hope that it’s not too late to make an impact.

I want to take my kids to the same trails my parents took me to, and I want them to feel the way I felt. To feel extremely small, and to know that there are so many things out in the world that are much bigger, and much more significant than they ever could be. It’s humbling, and it can only be felt in the mountains, in the silence, in the present.