OPINION: Students must fight for environmental justice

Nayanika Kapoor | Daily Trojan

President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality stood in front of the Senate Environmental Committee on Wednesday for her hearing. In line with Trump’s policies and public condemnation of environmentally regulatory policies, Kathleen Hartnett White is a climate change denier and does not believe that carbon emissions are harmful to the environment. Along with Scott Pruitt, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, the two most powerful officials in charge of environmental regulatory agencies are both fervently opposed to regulations to combat climate change. These choices are irresponsible and short-sighted, but of course, not unexpected.

But federal appointments and policymaking aren’t the only ways to enact meaningful change — for better or for worse — regarding the environment and climate change. The president and U.S. senators aren’t the only ones who have a voice in this fight.

Millennials, ranging from college students to young professionals in the work force, have a responsibility to set a precedent for our generation moving forward. College students have the power to pressure their universities to invest in sustainable development research as well as improve college campus policies, like recycling programs, to ensure environmental responsibility.

For example, USC students can urge the University to divest from fossil fuels, not only affecting the economics of these companies that produce them but also taking a symbolic stance against them. In the workforce, millennials can push their individual workplaces to take action, but also attempt to shift industries in a different direction. Sustainability and economic development are not mutually exclusive, and it is a pity that our current presidential administration paints this relationship as such.

Therefore, millennials have the power and responsibility to encourage funding and new development to funnel into green technology, renewable energy and sustainability research. If millennials cement this as the future of our economy, we have the ability to dismantle the idea that sustainability comes at the cost of the economy. There is a possibility for cooperation, but having a climate change denier leading the EPA is certainly not the way to go.

Art by Lisa Kam | Daily Trojan

Having officials such as Pruitt and White who are “unsure” about whether climate change is a reality or not is detrimental to the progress made under the previous presidential administration and threatens the future of our planet, and our futures as young people. Once again, corporate interests are prioritized above long-term protections and development in the environmental sector. Some of these corporations put up facades of sustainability initiatives and PR campaigns to promote “environmentally friendly” corporate policies. But, the truth of the matter is that having people like Pruitt and White in these roles makes it exponentially easier to profit — especially if it comes at the cost of the environment. When scientific facts are tossed aside to further political agendas and benefit corporate donors, regulatory agencies like the EPA and the CEQ become dangerously ineffective and counterproductive to their established mission.

As the most sustainability-conscious generation, millennials have more information and accessibility to environmentally friendly products and practices and overall have a greater sense of urgency when it comes to such problems. But these attitudes often do not carry into activism or policy changes the same way that millennials organize for reproductive rights or immigration. Environmental policy and regulation are incredibly important, but have not been considered a hot-button issue.

As the next generation of leaders, policymakers, environmental engineers and researchers, millennials must decide that environmentalism is a priority and mobilize in that direction. While funding and manpower in this sector have increased and more and more students are studying in this field, this administration has the potential to create irreversible damage. Potentially motivating other countries to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, for example, would stunt international environmental movements in a significantly harmful way. Therefore, millennials must participate in civic engagement with the same rigor and force that they have for other issues.

Time is running out for the millennial generation to tackle environmental issues proactively instead of retroactively. The consequences of our actions are here and visible — floods, droughts, an increase in extreme weather conditions and, in poorer parts of the country, lack of access to clean air and water.

If the administration and its corresponding agencies will not take responsibility for pushing our country in a positive direction, then it is up to this generation to shoulder the burden. The power is in the people, like it has been with several other issues, and it is time to tackle this issue head-on, rather than waiting until it is too late.