I always feel a bit silly when people refer to me as a “Michigander.” The word sounds like it should refer to some sort of long-necked domestic bird. But I was never ashamed to be a person from Michigan until I read an article in The Michigan Daily about a recent Greenpeace report (Michigan’s CO2 emissions higher than those in entire countries, 06/01/2009). The report, based on a long-term study conducted by the World Resources Institute, found that Michigan emits more carbon dioxide than 167 of the 184 countries studied. This deplorable situation is unacceptable, and it demands strong and swift action.

How can it be that Michigan emits more CO2 than Sweden, Austria and Greece combined? A big part of the problem lies in Michigan’s power infrastructure: 80 percent of the state’s electricity comes from inefficient, outdated and dirty coal plants. But according to Greenpeace, electric power accounts for only 40 percent of the state’s massive carbon emissions. Another 30 percent comes from transportation and the fact that so many people in Michigan drive gas-guzzlers produced by the Big Three automakers. And it certainly doesn’t help that politicians — most notably Ann Arbor’s representative in U.S. Congress, John Dingell (D-Dearborn) — have worked very hard to prevent much-needed progress toward improving emissions standards on these vehicles.

What’s especially offensive about Michigan’s inaction — and the entire country’s — is this: If the trend toward global warming isn’t stymied, it will have dire ramifications for the people who contributed least to the problem and had no say in policies that led to it. Certainly, industrialized nations will face — and are already facing — serious problems as a result of global climate change. But the people who will suffer the most are the world’s disadvantaged: future flood victims in developing nations, Africans who won’t have enough water to drink, poor farmers struggling to support their families, traditional societies that rely on threatened ecosystems for their livelihoods — and the list goes on. Americans may be able to survive on a warmer planet, but there are plenty of people in other parts of the world who won’t.

Of course, those in the third world won’t be the only ones getting the worst out of the deal. Young college students ought to be fuming about excessive fossil fuel usage, too. After all, young people are the ones who will bear the brunt of the consequences of today’s carbon emissions. A fifty-something business executive who drives a 4×4 Hummer, ignorantly denying that global warming is a problem and consuming resources like there’s no tomorrow, will probably have one foot (or both) in the grave before the worst consequences of those actions are fully realized. But that’s not so for most students. Right now, the U.S. is a bit like a car driving recklessly at 100 mph while a group of unwilling passengers sit in the back. If the driver — the policy-makers, business executives and others who brought the U.S. to the present situation — crashes the car, those in the back seat will also have to pay the consequences.

The injustice and the threat posed by global climate change demand action at many different levels. At the state level, coal plants must be replaced with efficient, sustainable sources, and Michigan’s legislature should act quickly to honor the commitment made by Governor Jennifer Granholm in her most recent State of the State address: a commitment to reduce power plant fossil fuel use by 45 percent by 2020. At the national level, Democrats should stand by their words and pass legislation to limit carbon emissions and push green technology forward with additional government investment, higher subsidies and an ambitious timetable for shifting to renewable-energy infrastructure. And students like us can help in some very simple ways: educating ourselves (and others), writing our legislators, conserving energy and being conscious of how our actions affect others and our environment.

Brian Flaherty is a Business senior.

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