The Same Fight

I grew up in Southern California, so I always hear about the days when the surf is big or when snowstorms hit local ski resorts. Brush fires, earthquakes, and California’s perpetual water shortage have also been on my radar since as long as I can remember. This is about as far as I got in thinking about how climate change affects me — until recently. I knew that I should be cognizant of my carbon footprint, and that deforestation, droughts, and floods disproportionately affect the developing nations where I have traveled and worked. However, I thought that concern for climate change should take a back seat to the world’s more pressing matters — poverty, inequity, conflict, and disease. And frankly, I thought that all of this “going green” talk was a little shortsighted and pretentious. Buying overly priced organic blueberries and driving hybrid vehicles are luxuries for the “haves,” while millions of the “have-nots” are dying from AIDS, suffering from malnutrition and human trafficking, and living in oppressive societies that stifle basic freedoms.

What I have learned over the past few months is that my ignorance was preventing me from seeing the larger picture, and that protecting the environment through collective (or even individual efforts) and advocating for health equity, human rights, and poverty alleviation are not mutually exclusive. Lately, I have come to realize that my preoccupation with the latter had blinded my consideration for the former, and that my biased and insular thinking about small but well-intentioned efforts to work toward a more sustainable world should not be discredited or dismissed as insufficient.

This semester, I ventured away from the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) to the other side of campus, where “going green” is not an option — it is a way of life. In the beginning, my International Organizations and Conferences course at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES) was an overwhelming inundation of alphabet soup. While the UNFCCC, COP, KP, AWG-LCA, and REDD+ were all completely foreign to me, I soon learned that these letters mean more than the sum of their parts: they represent a worldwide effort to combat the increasing threat of climate change. However, of the 7 billion people in the world who are affected by climate change, very few know that the 17th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently underway in Durban, South Africa working on their behalf.

But the thousands of people (including many from my class) who have congregated for this 2-week event, or the individuals who extol the benefits of buying organic quinoa or fair-trade coffee, have not simply decided that protecting the environment is more important than the world’s other urgent matters. What I have learned from my stint across campus with students from FES is that we are all in this fight together. Whether we devote our lives to environmental or health advocacy, or just choose to ride a bike to the local farmer’s market or march for HIV/AIDS funding, we are all fighting for peace, justice, and sustainability on behalf of the millions of people worldwide who cannot advocate for themselves.