Commentary

The World’s In Our Hands

E. Song/The Phillipian

Andover pushes the boundaries of student learning and research each year, from expansion of the Tang Institute to our relatively new Nest. However, environmental science — increasingly significant and even more pertinent under a president who denies the existence of climate change — remains an area of unrealized potential research for both students and faculty alike.

Earth’s evolving conditions may change our society more than anything else in the decades to come. In 2016, we hit major milestones, or gravestones, in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and global surface temperatures. Shifting conditions will lead to dramatically reduced crop yields, metropolitan areas slowly becoming submerged in water, and a gradual extinction of 58 percent of undomesticated animals, among countless other environmental changes. Earth’s situation will not improve unless major changes are made to humans’ way of life. But now, under the Trump administration, the situation is looking especially dire. In 20 years, when the most dramatic effects manifest, the praxis of environmental sciences will become paramount to managing the “new normal.” It won’t matter whom you voted for or what you believe in. The effects of climate change won’t spare anyone.

Trump promised to revive America’s flagging coal industry and withdraw from the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. Even if Trump does not dismantle the EPA, he could chop its budget and refuse to enforce the clean air and power acts that give much of its authority. A crippled EPA cannot solve environmental justice crises like in Flint, Michigan, nor can it take companies that pollute our environment to task. His administration has already rolled back car efficiency standards and the Clean Power Plan, permitted censorship and investigation of climate scientists, and drafted a budget that slashed the EPA’s budget by 24 percent. Even if Trump does not withdraw from the Paris accords, he can refuse to enforce its provisions, and could refuse to hold other countries accountable to the agreement. Either way, it is unlikely that the Paris Agreement will reach its goal of keeping this century’s global temperature rise below 2°C — whether or not the Paris Agreement can achieve this is perhaps the most crucial indicator of Earth’s climate stability or instability in years to come, for rising temperatures and hotter conditions will make the Earth more susceptible to even more warming. Trump’s campaign platform has rejected scientific fact and environmental sanctity. With four or more years of a Trump administration, the damage to Earth may become irreversible. Humans cannot un-melt polar ice caps, remove substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, or compensate for the damage from increasingly frequent natural disasters due to climate change.

Every person should have a basic understanding of climate change and how his or her own carbon footprint contributes to atmospheric damage. Currently, Andover offers only one environmental science and three environmentally-relevant courses — all gated by prerequisites, and all only one-term long. Additionally, the Course of Study places them under interdisciplinary science electives while directing the majority of students towards the lab science trinity of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Secondary school environmental sciences are in a similar position as computer programming courses were 25 years ago: underfunded and underappreciated. The Republican party’s appetite for budget cuts and dislike for the environment seems likely to halt or even reverse these efforts. We can prevent this educational gap among ourselves and position Andover to lead secondary education on environmental issues. But to do this, Andover must offer more environmental science courses.

Certainly, one of Andover’s core strengths is the substantial depth and variety of our curriculum, so some might protest intense specialization in our science curriculum. “Isn’t college the time to focus?” One might ask. But if we should leave specialization to higher education, why does the Math Department offer seven computer programming courses and only two statistics courses? The answer is that computer science is now seen as an essential skill. Environmental science, however, is just as significant. Throughout the United States, activists prepare to fight revitalized fossil fuel industries, environmental crimes, and climate disasters conditions that the Trump administration may evoke. As students and stewards of our corner of the world, we, too, must resist. To do so, we must understand what we are advocating for. If we begin this process now, by the end of Trump’s presidency we will have a class of recent graduates ready to address the damage.

Ben Cakir is a three-year Lower from Andover, Mass.

Mar 31, 2017