Green Plans Lost in Global Warming's Shadow

    With the events of UCSD Earth Week past, it is important to look back and reflect. Many of the week’s campaigns were positive and inspiring. But the events also took on an unfortunate political tinge.

    Jennifer Hsu/Guardian

    One of the week’s key goals was to educate the UCSD and San Diego communities to raise awareness about global warming – an issue which instills more division than cooperation. It is that political polarization of the global warming issue that harms important environmental efforts.

    Much of the debate about global warming revolves around scientific consensus; but that consensus is often based upon politics, not science. If the polarization of the debate on global warming is in question, one could look at a National Journal poll from Feb. 3, which questioned 113 Congress members on global warming.

    The poll reported that 95 percent of Democrats questioned believe Earth is warming due to man-made problems. Only 13 percent of Republicans surveyed share that belief. Both numbers are down from an April 2006 poll.

    “”It doesn’t matter … improving the environment is important anyway,”” said one Republican who answered “”no.””

    This poll came just one day after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change report was released. The report was used by the Step It Up campaign, located outside Eleanor Roosevelt College on April 14, to express global warming’s daunting and immediate threat.

    One banner quoted the most compelling line of the report: “”Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”” However, the quote was misrepresented. The report clearly stated that its use of the phrase “”climate change”” refers to any change, whether natural or the result of human activity.

    Furthermore, the report found that human activity is only “”likely”” to have caused temperature changes, defining the term as greater than a 66-percent chance. Even this information is reported as “”based on expert judgment rather than formal attribution studies.”” The IPCC did report a 90-percent chance that increased atmospheric gases are a man-made problem.

    The IPCC also reported projections that the Antarctic ice sheet is expected to expand, rather than melt away.

    What gets lost is the importance of curbing pollution and waste and making positive environmental changes daily in our own communities – regardless of global warming. The fact that people are causing pollution and the concept that pollution is harmful to both the environment and society are hardly debatable.

    During Earth Week, volunteers sorted trash and recyclables in Price Center Plaza, planted trees and cleaned up a local beach. Environmental efforts were on display, such as Project Greenline, which hopes to convert the UCSD Hillcrest shuttle into the first powered solely by biodiesel.

    The city of San Diego – a leader in sustainability – recently contracted Sun Edison to install solar panels, which will generate electricity to run sewage treatment. Sun Edison will sell the electricity to the city at rates cheaper than those offered by San Diego Gas and Electric.

    The city’s waste management problems have been growing, along with the allowable height of landfills, for years. Edco, a company recycling construction waste, has been waiting on a city ordinance requiring such recycling for two years. Meanwhile, many dump at the more convenient landfill in Miramar.

    Although wishing to motivate drastic change of behavior associated with issues like global warming is certainly commendable, it is much easier to encourage small steps like those that help individuals and communities.

    Despite its efforts, San Diego still has problems. Sewage treatment has been an ongoing issue in the city: Some beaches are often closed for up to three days after rain because of sewage and urban runoff. Then on April 18, KPBS reported that San Diegans drive more than the rest of Californians, which shows the political debate on global warming is not deterring individual automotive use.

    Environmental activism should be about action, not politics. It should be about inspiring change and motivating sacrifice, not instilling fear or debating beliefs about global warming.

    The Step It Up campaign had students writing letters to Congress asking for legislation requiring carbon emissions to be cut by 80 percent before 2050, a noble – but lofty – goal.

    A better approach would be to think locally – and to act locally. A campaign could write letters to the local government requesting a recycling ordinance. Petitions to electric companies expressing desire for solar or other sources of power could cut down pollution and lower electric costs for consumers.

    Clean beaches could be obtained by focusing efforts on sewage treatment; after concerns in the 1980s about pollution in Mission Bay, the city spent $130 million restructuring the sewage and storm drain system. A study completed in 2004 found the bay safe to swim in.

    Letters to employers and schools could convince them to offer discounts on city transportation or to extend present coverage, such as the UCSD Free Bus Zone. With increased use, the current system will improve. Car companies should be forced to improve because of market forces, not legislation. This can be accomplished by local improvements in transportation.

    What happens at UCSD affects La Jolla, and, in turn, San Diego. San Diegans impact Southern California, and the state clears the way for the region. What begins with one choice to ride the bus on Saturdays or buy efficient light bulbs for the bathroom becomes a nation setting an example for the world, without conflict or debate, without questionable presentation of science – without fear of a world on the brink of disaster.

    Individuals doing their small part is what environmentalism, conservation and sustainability should be about, not global crisis.

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