As fires blaze along the West Coast, many people are looking around and wondering who is to blame for this disaster. President Donald Trump claims the fires are due to poor forest management and “too many leaves on the ground.” Climate scientists have a different culprit in mind, that culprit being climate change. Higher temperatures and more severe droughts are the leading climate change-related causes of the intense fires. These fires are destroying landscapes, as well as putting its inhabitants in danger. In Oregon, over 500,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes.

The chaos of climate change is occurring because of our society’s dependence on carbon. In Wisconsin, the transportation sector accounts for 29% of our state’s carbon emissions. Nationally, transportation accounts for more emissions than any other sector. Unnecessary highway expansions reinforce our reliance on fossil fuels, which exacerbates climate change.

I am sure many of you who grew up in Wisconsin — especially near Milwaukee — or spent some time driving through it have noticed the never-ending highway construction projects. Year after year, our state spends money on expanding and improving highways, while they allow most towns in Wisconsin to be completely devoid of adequate public transit. Folks who cannot afford to own a car or who cannot drive are unable to easily access other parts of the state or even other parts of their town.

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Gov. Tony Evers, D-WI, recently announced plans to revive the project on the East-West corridor of I-94. This project is bad for equity in our state. Not only does traffic and pollution decrease the quality of life for the surrounding community — often marginalized communities — but it also perpetuates the cycle of vehicle dependence. This project was actually abandoned by former Gov. Scott Walker, R-WI, due to high costs, community opposition, and racial and environmental justice concerns. I would have assumed Evers would also be opposed to this plan, and I am disappointed to see that he is not understanding the harm this project would cause.

The revived proposal to expand I-94 comes at a time when our generation is increasingly seeking access to non-driving transportation, and support for clean, accessible public transportation is stronger than ever. The outdated plans to expand I-94 should be scrapped and replaced with investments in public transportation. A shift toward public transit would be attractive to students who will soon be graduating from the University of Wisconsin.

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I personally would like to live somewhere after graduation where I do not need to depend on a car or on an inadequate transit system to get around. When deciding on where to live after graduation, fast and accessible transit is extremely important. Public transit is also a resource that would increase equity in the community, for there are many people who are not able to drive. Without public transit, many people struggle to keep a job or even complete daily tasks. Finally, one of the greatest benefits of public transit is the reduction of carbon emissions.

The effects of climate change have already begun, and we need to do everything in our power to slow these effects. My generation will continue to face the worst impacts of climate change the world has ever seen if we continue this inaction. We must start fighting back against inequity and climate change, and investing in public transportation is a great place to start.

Marina Minic ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in chemistry and environmental studies. She is a member of Campus Leaders for Energy Action Now.