The 2020 Golden Globes ceremony hosted speeches by yacht and mansion owners distressed about Australia’s bushfires and the emerging climate crisis globally. While the average college student cannot relate to the privilege and luxury of Hollywood celebrities, we share their anxieties.
On helicopter and satellite footage, devastating images from Australia show a continent engulfed in flames. The hourly scripts that news anchors are reading from their teleprompters sound like they were copied from a dystopian novel about an environmental apocalypse. Now, it is becoming non-fiction before our eyes.
As the new decade begins, the climate crisis has turned a corner from warning to alarm. If nations around the globe had set the pace to avoid climate crisis as the 2010s ended, we could predict the coming decades. We could know at what point mid-century atmospheric carbon would hit its ceiling, and when to expect temperatures to begin cooling. But the political resistance to climate awareness, fueled by anti-science ideology capitalized upon by corporations, has prevented this from happening in the face of unprecedented destruction. Australia’s bushfires, if anything, raise more haunting questions than they are resolving. If someone had seen these images in 2010, what would they have done? If someone watches last week’s Golden Globes ceremony in 2050, what will they think?
Australia’s conservative government is blaming the escalating fires on anything but their own lack of effort to mitigate the impacts of the changing climate, even as the fires continue to rage, destroying thousands of homes, killing dozens of people, wiping out vegetation and over a billion animals so far. Their Prime Minister has been heckled while visiting damaged areas, and has scrambled to express his regret. It would appear, for the time being, that the price of a political ultimatum is ecological devastation.
Idaho, and the world, must learn from Australia.
Currently, Idaho’s largest environmental hazard is also wildfires. Fires in Idaho’s forests and deserts directly influence water and air pollution, agricultural capability and ecology — perhaps forever, as invasive species rebound faster than native species. And despite Gov. Brad Little’s recognition of climate change, the state legislature, convening this month, has actively prohibited public schools from teaching climate change in existing science courses.
Luckily, at Boise State, climate education is expanding with a new climate studies minor and a global trend in environmental consciousness among young people suffering from eco-anxiety and frustrated by governments and corporations.
That frustration will continue to turn into more anger and action. We know the science behind climate change; Our biggest problem is that companies have profited off of fossil fuel use, fast fashion, animal agriculture and many other unsustainable industries for decades, and have recruited anti-science conservatism to their defense. This was not accidental.
Reports from fossil fuel companies Shell and Exxon show that their scientists predicted increasing rates of atmospheric carbon accurately, and attributed the global repercussions to their own practices in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, Republicans and Democrats were equally likely to be concerned about climate change, but with most of the energy industry’s large companies lobbying to Republicans, climate change became one of the most sensitive political topics along party lines.
The toxicity of the conservative defense has seeped into our moral fabric, including our gender binary. For example, a recent study showed that many cisgender, heterosexual men do not want to recycle or use tote bags for fear of appearing feminine or gay, as taking care of the earth is viewed as a feminine task or role. Though this feels laughable, it reveals a deep failure to prioritize collective well-being and our planet.
In the face of such grim prospects, it might feel like our actions have no power. The reality is that we have no choice.
But for Hollywood and the scientific community to claim the moral high ground on climate change is not only disrespectful but a grave mistake. It is often said that without identifying the problem, it is impossible to identify the solution. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a writer, activist and scholar of the Nishnaabeg nation explained in her book “As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance,” native and indigenous people around the world have long understood the links between colonialism and deteriorating environmental system stability; and since inequity has not ended, neither has natural resource exploitation.
“Indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse since the early days of colonial occupation,” Simpson wrote. “We should be thinking of climate change as part of a much longer series of ecological catastrophes caused by colonialism and accumulation-based society.”
As we enter a new decade, we must refocus. To understand the climate crisis is to understand its constitution of inequity. Greed, executed by displacement and exploitation, delivered us into this mess. It will not deliver us out.