Every generation has its defining struggle. Politicians use that to their advantage. If they can define our struggle, they have our support. They get to paste their names on our banners as we go marching off to war.

The last century was marked by struggles of the nation-on-nation, guns and explosions sort. A politician might be tempted to use this tried and true approach in creating the next big, defining struggle. For example, the Bush administration has long hoped that this decade would be defined in a similar fashion – a new war with international bad guys. President Bush chose to spend his presidency fighting a new war in an old way, but he will be remembered most for the war he chose not to fight, a battle against ourselves.

Last month, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a group of approximately 2,500 scientists that serves as an objective authority on global warming – released its latest report on the status of our planet. The report speaks unequivocally of the reality of man-made climate changes. More important, it explores the potential of current technology to slow and reverse our harmful effects on the planet. It also projects economic scenarios for potential worlds based in varying degrees of reliance on carbon-based fuels. Strangely enough, all of the “good” scenarios – the ones where our economies flourish and we survive – involve spending as much money as possible now to eliminate carbon-based energy.

The ball is now in the policymakers’ court. We have the problem and the technology. All that’s missing is an economic plan to put things into motion. Call it a New Deal; the politicians can still look to past models for guidance.

Last week, former Vice President Al Gore and Bush met face-to-face for the first time since immediately after the 2000 presidential election as the White House recognized this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipients. Two very different potential worlds faced off in the 2000 presidential election. After a 40-minute private conversation with Bush, Gore dodged microphones, saying only that they had talked about global warming the whole time. As National Public Radio put it, “If it wasn’t for a quirk of fate, their situations could have been reversed, with the president, Al Gore, receiving the Nobel Prize winner, George Bush.”

Truly, it would have been a different world. But it is not too late to redefine our generation’s struggle: We just need to be active in a way that we haven’t been. How many of us were even aware of the IPCC meeting and its announcement? Are there still those among us for whom global warming is a matter of belief? What are we going to do about these things?

Perhaps I have been missing all of the activism, but our University has struck me as a tad apathetic as of late. We cannot wait for our leaders in the Michigan Student Assembly or the University administration or the federal government to act, because this is our fight. The moral turpitude of our leaders should anger us, and we have to be vocal about it.

It is not up to any administration to define the struggle of our generation: It is up to us. As University students, we are some of the most informed citizens in the country. It is our duty to at least be aware of these things – to at least try to understand what is going on and to be vocal about what we learn.

As far as global warming is concerned, we are nearing the point of no return. In the words of Rajendra Pachauri, leader of the IPCC, “What we do in the next two or three years will define our future.” Our generation is about to define itself and the course of the world one way or the other. We had better be aware of our struggle.

Bryan Kolk can be reached at beakerk@umich.edu.

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