The single greatest issue of our generation

Dear Editor:

About a year ago, half on impulse, I decided to add a sustainable development minor to my mechanical engineering studies. Through doing so, I have come to realize just how vital it is for every single person to concentrate on solving environmental issues.

In the last few months, we have seen the release of three independent bombshell reports on the environment. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published their 6th assessment report promising a continued assault of natural disasters, a significant loss of sea life, and major flooding of coastal areas as sea levels rise. The World Wildlife Fund published a report showing that, on average, animal populations have declined by 60 percent over the past 40 years of modern industrialization and habitat destruction. In the United States, 13 federal agencies jointly produced the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which detailed a potential loss of agricultural yields, risk to human health and safety and increased devastation from natural disasters.

Scientists have been warning us about this for many, many years, yet we’ve done nothing to alter our course toward the destruction of our planet. Anti-environmental values have become subtly entrenched in our society. Our constant consumer need for new products has allowed us to become dependent on emissions-heavy industries like fossil fuel energy and manufacturing, while the plastics used in everything we buy pollute the oceans and foreign shores because they don’t degrade.

Every time I read about this, I feel an internal sense of panic. This issue is overwhelmingly broad, and to be honest, I still don’t know where to start making a difference — with technology, or politics, or something else. What I do know, however, is that it is necessary to learn about it. It is clear that we require a fundamental societal ideological shift in our relationship with the planet, and that can only happen when everyone begins to take on a part of the burden.

So to all my peers: saving the environment is the single greatest issue of our generation. If we continue to do nothing, we will see destruction and loss of life from natural disasters beyond anything we have seen before. I encourage every one of you from every field of study — not just the aspiring scientists, but the engineers, the journalists, the artists, and the rest — to begin to study environmental issues. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring a sustainable future. We were born into a world with the internet; we can be the generation that organizes to make the difference.

Hank Portney
Lehigh University, Class of 2021