I'm a 17-year-old singer-songwriter and climate justice activist from Los Angeles, California. So far, I haven’t had a say in who’s creating the policies that will affect my future, and because of the climate crisis, I may not even have a future. The current administration is doing nothing to prevent it from worsening, and some even deny that climate change exists. Long story short, I’m pissed.
But I’m on a mission to change things. In 2020, I will be able to vote in an election for the very first time. I’ve been following the presidential candidates closely, and I know that I’m going to vote for someone who makes fighting climate change their top priority.
At this point in the race, most of the presidential candidates are still trying to hone in on what issues are most important to the American people. It’s too soon to say which candidates will emerge with a winning strategy to combat climate change, but it’s encouraging to see the promise that 2020 could finally become the climate election. Several of the candidates have addressed the issue, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has made it the core platform of his campaign.
Scientists have known about climate change for several decades. It’s crazy that the current administration is actually moving backwards on the issue. Millions of people around the world are dying due to severe, more frequent natural disasters, rising temperatures that affect health and agriculture, and water and air pollution. If we postpone our actions any further, climate change will become irreversible, and we might not have a livable future. Up until this point, most of our elected officials have had a business-as-usual attitude about it. We must now vote as if our lives depend on it, because they do.
Climate change isn’t a standalone issue. It intersects with nearly all the major issues concerning the average American voter today.
For example, healthcare is a pressing topic for many of the candidates. No matter where you stand on the issue, everyone deserves to live a healthy life. However, the fossil fuel industry is contributing to the poor health of millions of people around the world. 2.4 million deaths a year worldwide can be traced to oil pollution. Also, according to a study by the Clean Air Task Force, extraction from urban oil fields exposes people to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene. These people are predominantly people of color and lower income citizens who also bear a higher burden of the dysfunctional healthcare system.
Another hot button topic in the U.S. right now is immigration, as millions of people throughout the world are migrating from their homes in search of asylum. Climate change is one cause of this as well. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the recent increase from 17 million to 821 million hungry people worldwide can be traced to climate change and rising temperatures. Because of the effects of climate change on agriculture, as well as rising sea levels, this could lead to millions, or even an estimated one billion, immigrants and refugees seeking asylum and food.
Climate change is related to our economy as well. According to a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, climate change cost taxpayers a total of $350 billion in the past decade due to repairing damaged infrastructure, providing federal aid to those affected by natural disasters, and more. So, taking preventative measures against climate change will lead to lower taxes in the long run. In addition, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a green economy could help generate 24 million jobs worldwide by 2030.
So, climate change affects every aspect of our lives.
A president’s job is to address all of the issues above, and to ensure the safety of all U.S. citizens. However, in the recent California wildfires, dozens of people died and tens of thousands of people lost their homes. The current administration continues to deny that the cause of increasing wildfires is due to human-induced climate change.
I’m starting college in the fall to prepare for a future that may not even exist. I’ve always wanted to have kids, but if the world continues on this trajectory, I won’t want to bring another human being into the world.
If the 2020 presidential candidates truly care about the people of the United States and the rest of the world, they will make climate change their top priority. And, if you’re reading this, and are eligible to vote, you should, too. Do it for your friends and family, kids and grandkids. Vote for a climate-conscious candidate!
Arielle Martinez Cohen is the partnerships director for Zero Hour and an organizer for Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles. She is also a singer-songwriter and writes about social issues, including the official song of Zero Hour, “Two Minutes to Midnight.” She is valedictorian of her senior class, and will be attending Brown University in the fall. The views expressed are her own.