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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Gen Z must raise their voice against climate change

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Memembers of the community protest in front of the coal power plant on Cameron Avenue on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. The protestors have gather here every Friday morning since May 2019 to complain that the plant is still operating. In 2010, former Chancellor Holden Thorpe said that UNC would stop using the plant by 2020.

For decades now, scientists have been warning of an impending global climate disaster in need of urgent action. The topic of climate change is one many people at this point may be tired of hearing about.

Yet, a significant portion of the population dismisses these experts — or, remains apathetic despite being aware of the threat in a shocking testament to the consequences of the bystander effect

Because of a concept known as diffusion of responsibility, the more people who are around when we witness an injustice, the less personally responsible we feel to actually do something about it. Sometimes, this occurs in conjunction with the assumption that somebody else eventually will act.

One study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that while 67 percent of Gen Z agree that climate should be a “top priority to ensure sustainable planet for future generations," only 32 percent had “personally taken action to help address climate change within the last year,” which includes donating money, volunteering, contacting an elected official or attending a rally or protest.

How did we get to the point where something as globally impactful as climate change is casually disregarded by so many, in one of the few nations wealthy enough to actually do something about it?

The first Earth Day was celebrated back in 1970. It was created in response to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, in which more than three million gallons of oil killed more than 10,000 sea creatures.

What was originally planned to be a teach-in on college campuses across the nation evolved into peaceful demonstrations for environmental reform that drew in over 20 million Americans of all ages. Consequently, a large portion of the attendees were high school and college-aged students, including “two thousand colleges and universities, ten thousand high schools and grade schools, and several thousand communities in all,” according to Earth Day founder and former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Yet over 50 years later, we continue to suffer from the same issues. Reports of rising sea levels, predictions of the massive migrations that will follow and an already-occurring global water crisis have still led to no real action.

The physical effects are already here, and still the majority of young people continue to ignore it. How many of us continue to consume meat on a daily basis knowing the horrors of factory farming? How many choose to purchase and consume products sold in disposable and single-use packaging, knowing they pollute oceans and landfills, and the production of which releases high carbon emissions? While everyone participles in harming our plant, Gen Z and future generations will be the ones to face the brunt of the consequences for our leaders’ avoidance of concrete action.

Instead of just worrying about climate change, we should be putting our money and our votes where our mouth is — actively donating to climate campaigns and candidates, calling our elected officials and showing up to town halls to make our opinions known, and actively changing our own personal behavior to align with what we claim our values to be. 

Just as generations before us did during the first Earth Day, we must come together and put the power of collective action in demanding and enacting change to use.

Part of being an elected official involves listening and taking action on constituents’ demands and concerns. As the adage goes, closed mouths don't get fed. Right now, Gen Z is whispering for change when we should be screaming.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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