For our grandchildren

I have been thinking a lot about my grandchildren recently. That is probably a strange thing for a 20-year-old college student to be thinking about, but as I examine our current Congress, it does not seem strange at all. The 113th Congress has just returned from a “well-deserved” recess after the branch’s least productive year in U.S. history. Now, there are dozens of issues for which I could criticize Congress for their inaction, but one stands above all else: climate change. I recently returned from a vacation in the mountains of Colorado and I can’t help but ask myself: will this all still be here for my grandchildren?

My family has owned a small rustic fishing cabin in Colorado for nearly 70 years. I hope to take my children and grandchildren there one day, although I’m not sure it will be the same Colorado that I have grown up in. Will there still be azure skies and snowball fights in mid-July? Will the mountains still hum with the sounds of running water and sing with the songs of the birds? Will the pine and aspen still cover the countryside in a thick patchwork quilt?

Colorado, like many other states, is expected to see an average increase in temperature of four degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.  Warmer weather is dangerous for skiers and fishers alike. Trout Unlimited’s Jack Williams warned that populations of some species of fish could decline as much as 77 percent by 2080, and some Colorado ski resorts have reported record low snowfalls, delaying their seasonal opening in recent years. Both of these sports are major moneymakers for the Centennial State and support countless numbers of jobs.

Warmer temperatures have also allowed invasive bark beetles to thrive and to move into high elevation climates. Bark beetles are one of the most destructive creatures imaginable. In the past decade alone, this insect plague has destroyed tens of thousands of square miles of treasured Rocky Mountain forest.

The worst, however, is yet to come. This past summer we caught a glimpse of our grandchildren’s future as we witnessed a horrific and long-lasting drought that swept across the western United States. As snowfall decreases, these droughts will only become more common and widespread. No state, from Colorado to New Jersey to California, will be able to avoid the impact of a long-lasting water shortage.

What is being done about all this? Not much. Colorado, much like my own state of Pennsylvania, is lured by the get-rich-quick schemes of fracking without giving much thought to long-term environmental consequences. Even if Colorado were to turn around tomorrow, ending all fossil fuel drilling and setting the highest emission standards in the world, it wouldn’t be enough to save the majestic purple mountains.

What Colorado and the United States as a whole need is congressional action. In order for climate change legislation to move forward, one party needs to step up to the plate: Republicans. The party of Theodore Roosevelt has made it their mission to block any and all climate change legislation. Leading Republicans like Marco Rubio have said outlandish things like, “I do not believe human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate.” He is not alone in his beliefs. A recent Politico study found that only eight out of 278 congressional Republicans were willing to publicly admit they believed in climate change. The problem with rhetoric is that it dictates action. Last year, when an amendment was proposed in the Senate to ban any additional federal regulation of greenhouse gases, all except one Republican voted for the measure. 

Contrary to their past actions, congressional Republicans are just as likely to have grandchildren as the rest of us. So if Republicans like Paul Ryan are really as outdoorsy as they claim to be, shouldn’t they be trying to protect the great outdoors so that their grandchildren can have the same experiences they did? If they don’t, our grandchildren are doomed to a life without the natural resources and environmental beauty the rest of us currently enjoy.

This past weekend more than 300,000 people flocked to New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March, the largest climate change march in U.S. history. I joined 75 other Williams students in the day-long march. I was overcome by a sense of pride as I watched thousands of millennials who had decided they had had enough. The rally coincided with the start of a United Nations (U.N.) summit which will address the issue of climate change. But a U.N. accord is useless without U.S. congressional backing. If we have any shot of fighting climate change here and abroad, we will need a Congress that is fully committed to the cause.

In order to save my first love, Colorado, and the rest of our great land from the scorching abyss of climate change, we need major congressional action. This action cannot wait for a few years or until after midterms. We need it today. So for my grandchildren, I ask congressional Republicans to be a part of something bigger than themselves: to make this great country of ours fit for our grandchildren. It will not be easy. There will be tough treaties to ratify, close roll call votes and more than a handful of angry constituents. Congressional action on climate change isn’t about us or our nasty party politics. It is about the most important thing in the world: our grandchildren.

Lucas Elek ’17 is from Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in Carter.