In the last few years, whether it be on our campus or halfway across the world, our anxiety around climate change has hit an unprecedented level — dominating conversations, protests and activism on practically every continent.
Here in Ann Arbor, University of Michigan students and the greater Washtenaw County community have made their voices heard that they want real action on the climate crisis. In September 2019, thousands of community members joined the large-scale Washtenaw County Climate Strike and demanded immediate change. Beyond this, student activists have overwhelmingly pushed back against the University’s commitment to investing in fossil fuels, climaxing in the arrest of 10 protesters by campus police in March. Many of my colleagues at The Michigan Daily have clearly echoed these opinions, stressing how important it is that society adopts aggressive plans like the Green New Deal without hesitation.
However, travel a few miles outside Ann Arbor city limits and you’ll get a completely different picture of Washtenaw County’s position on climate change. According to county election records, while the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas — predominantly urban centers — have unsurprisingly supported the Democratic agenda, the same isn’t true in other parts of the county. In fact, in the November 2016 election, many of the Washtenaw townships unequivocally affirmed their support for President Donald Trump, who has done little to fight the climate crisis, calling it a Chinese hoax. Election results show that a high number of precincts supported Trump by over 50 percent, while some areas voted for him by almost 65 percent. Therefore, while many of the opinions expressed here on our campus are valid, they clearly don’t represent the perspectives of many Washtenaw residents or the areas surrounding our university.
This means something not only for Washtenaw County — but for the entire climate fight. The same trend is occurring across the entire country, as well as on the international stage. The problem is that climate change has for years remained an issue on the left. Many people in Ann Arbor think we need to support legislation like the Green New Deal and throw away all fossil fuels, but you’ll hear exactly the opposite from people living a short drive away. All across the country and perhaps the world, liberals talk a lot about climate change while conservatives remain relatively silent. The crisis has gained significant attention — there’s no doubt about that — but this recognition is unevenly distributed across society.
I support many Republican positions on issues, but I fear the inherent dangers of climate change. Many people might expect me to reject climate change entirely because of my political views, but that’s not true. It’s not a Chinese hoax, but a real disaster that needs a real solution. Sooner rather than later, our society will have to confront the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.
However, I, along with many other more conservative and moderate citizens, am unable to engage in the climate conversation because it has become far too extreme. (I would even suggest that Trump’s ability to address the crisis is impaired by this phenomenon that so many have experienced.) It is easy to feel alienated and excluded in this divisive conversation, one where few alternative viewpoints are readily welcomed. Real change could occur, if only the leaders of the conversation could become leaders for all and invite everybody to work toward a solution. A movement cannot ignore the views of half of the constituency; it has to learn to adapt, encompassing what everybody believes if true progress is to occur.
There have been numerous legislative attempts in the past to mitigate climate change and global warming on a smaller scale, but few, if any, have made notable advancements for the cause. More recently, some members of Congress, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., have even advocated for alternatives to the Green New Deal, like the “Green Real Deal.” The Green Real Deal “recognizes that a national commitment to innovation, competitive markets, and the deployment of advanced energy technologies will help the United States as the global leader in clean energy,” according to the Gaetz’s official website. While Democrats predictably didn’t express much approval for the proposal, these types of bills — which are far more practical and politically feasible — are precisely the kind we need to pass if we want to save our planet.
The truth is that proposals like the Green New Deal, along with a cascade of other extreme climate legislation, are simply not capable of solving this crisis because they’re far too dramatic.
We shouldn’t be talking about complex measures that completely change our way of life, something that makes these proposals so unattractive in the first place. We need to find ways to draft legislation that respects the needs of ordinary, hard-working Americans, our current way of life and the economy. We need to take small but significant steps that can gradually move our planet toward the ideal state that so many climate advocates envision.
The progress we will experience by acting in this manner may not be exactly what current activists are hoping for, but it will surely be a significant leap from what’s being accomplished now. Ultimately, until society can effectively part ways with the divisive, unrealistic solutions that have become so common in the climate conversation, real improvement will be near impossible to reach.
Evan Stern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.