To the generation who grew up learning about global warming before it became climate change — to the generation who grew up watching Disney Channel and their cringe-worthy videos about the “Three R’s,” reduce, reuse, recycle — to the generation who read every future dystopian fictitious book series revolving around the aftermath of human destruction of the earth — to the generation who grew up being told that we needed to recycle all paper because of the increasing rates of deforestation in the Amazon ― the lungs of the earth — to the generation that is maturing into the societal acceptance of denying that we as a species are in a crisis, listen here: do not, under any circumstance, allow politics and partisan fighting to trivialize an issue that demands immediate action.

Politicians and governmental leaders have taken it upon themselves to shape the rhetoric of climate change by diminishing its significance. Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said last month he doesn’t know if climate change is real, but says it “probably” is. To go one step further, Vos stated it’s a political “non-starter” if climate change is being imagined by the left to “make them feel better about themselves.” 

Vos was speaking in response to Gov. Tony Evers’ recent creation of the climate change task force, headed by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. Vos also said this task force had “no real task.”

Dismissing the harsh realities of climate change is not unique to Wisconsin politicians.

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Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced the U.S.’s official withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, claiming that it was a “total disaster” and that cutting emissions would “hurt the competitiveness” of the U.S.

Why are our politicians not taking what could be the sixth mass extinction seriously?

First, it is costly. There is no question that cost will be a massive burden to reduce the level of emissions necessary to slow the warming of the earth’s core enough to maintain a sustainable environment that is compatible with our current way of life. But, it will also be incredibly costly to invest in alternative energy sources.

Second, it is an investment that will not see immediate results, and in a world where proof is demanded in order to believe, it is hard to rally a nation behind an idea that those who must contribute to this effort will not reap its benefits.

But those are not good enough reasons to put it on the back burner. A global crisis requires the entire globe to nail down its impending threat.

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The U.S. is the second leading contributor of carbon emissions in the world. We cannot ignore the fact that we have an inconceivable responsibility to ourselves and to the future to suffocate this problem as best as we can. So if our nation’s leaders won’t take this problem seriously, we must do so individually.

Take 16-year-old Greta Thunberg for example. She is a climate activist from Sweden who has taken it upon herself to go on school strikes in protest of climate inaction. She has given a TED talk detailing the gravity our decisions are going to have on our future, and she spoke at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in September.

“You are failing us,” she said. “We will never forgive you.”

She is speaking on behalf of a generation whose futures are uncertain because of the decisions of so-called leaders, the leaders whose futures will not be affected by the poor, ignorant decisions they are making by putting this off.

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We cannot downplay the severity of this crisis any longer. We — as academics, students, parents, grandparents, children and humans alike — cannot allow these decisions to be made for us when we know better. We need to elect leaders who take this crisis as seriously as we do, and we must condemn any action that weakens the potential of our future as a nation and as a generation.

It takes a community like ours here at the University of Wisconsin to start small and radiate change outwards. In the words of Bobby Kennedy, actions to improve the lives of others causes “a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls.”

Americans are going through a rough patch in politics — we are constantly stepping on Legos and screaming in pain, and we have yet to figure out that we put the Legos there in the first place. We have taken partisan fighting to the level of denying scientific fact — concrete evidence — as a means of participating in an age-old feud that is the bipartisan system. 

If the U.S. wants to dominate the world in economy, diplomacy, and ultimately maintain its label as one of the most powerful nations in the world, we must lead the world in taking action. And we, as young people, must lead our nation in ensuring that possibility.

Kaitlin Kons ([email protected])  is a sophomore studying political science and public policy.