How to Advocate for Climate Change as a Teenager

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Elizabeth Zheng reading the Climate Casino by William Nordhaus

Climate change caused by human activities is profoundly altering the world in ways that are posing risks to our society, with dire consequences such as rising temperatures, melting ice caps, and surging sea levels. As a teenager, you may feel helpless and unsure of what to do to raise awareness of the devastating effects on the future of tomorrow. 

Here’s what I recommend: immerse yourself in the policies, politics, and intricacies of climate change. Not only will it give you a broader and deeper understanding of our warming world, but it will also help you understand the specifics of what to advocate for when fighting to make a difference. I recommend the book, The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World by Nobel Peace Prize laureate William Nordhaus. 

 In his published book, William Nordhaus warns that we have entered the “Climate Casino” -- a metaphor for the global warming crisis that will lead to unpredictable and dangerous effects if not acted on soon. This change involves tipping points and thresholds that, if triggered, can result in consequences self-reinforcing and irreversible. He also argues that this is an urgent economic issue, which will lead to significant costs if unaddressed as well. We already knew this. However, his book explains that there is still time to turn things around and avoid the negative impacts before the casino takes a toll. Nordhaus makes predictions about the future climate, discusses abatement costs, and examines a cost-benefit framework to arrive at a global warming temperature target. He then proposes potential solutions by focusing on the science and economics of climate change and by urging rapid implementation of new policies to control carbon emissions. 

If there is anything to read in his book, it would be his cost-benefit analysis using the estimates of cost abatement due to emission control and those of climate damages. The analysis helps determine the appropriate target for how large a temperature increase ought to be allowed. Using his model, Nordhaus examines various temperature targets set previously. For example, his calculations show that the 2°C target set by the 2009 Copenhagen Accord is too ambitious. Unless virtually all nations start implementing an efficient climate policy very soon, the cost of meeting the 2°C target would be prohibitively high.  

Another piece I want to highlight is his chapters on the effect of climate change on wildlife. It is a heart-wrenching topic, but one that puts the severity in perspective. Nordhaus explains that scientists expect that at some point the collapse of ice sheets will become inevitable because the process will be self-reinforcing -- the melting of ice lowers the elevation of the sheet and the higher temperatures at the lower altitudes further accelerate and ensure continued melting. And as a result, polar bears and other wildlife will be subject to uncontrollable collapse of their homes. 

Ultimately, the Climate Casino drives home many good points, such as the urgent need to price carbon-use and to wean ourselves off from coal-fired power generation. He also emphasizes a future rife with dangerous uncertainty. However, he lets us know that if global warming is taken seriously, there is still time before the risks and consequences become irreversible. 

As Nordhaus said in the first and last line of his book: “we can undo what we are doing.”

".... the collapse of ice sheets will become inevitable because the process will be self-reinforcing -- the melting of ice lowers the elevation of the sheet and the higher temperatures at the lower altitudes further accelerate and ensure continued melting."
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