New climate change legislation offers hope to environmental activists

The+current+administration+takes+action+to+enact+policies+that+help+slow+climate+change.

Leah Allen '22

The current administration takes action to enact policies that help slow climate change.

With the change in administrations January 20, the United States Federal Government re-committed to passing legislature to address the effects of climate change.  These policy changes occur as experts claim that global warming is an international emergency, according to The New York TimesWhile these measures are now in effect at a federal level, grassroots organizations and advocacy groups, as well as members of the Sacred Heart Greenwich community, have worked steadily over the past few years to build a healthier planet.

On his first day in office, President Joseph R. Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, revoked the Keystone XL oil pipeline’s federal permit, and pledged to review several greenhouse-gas regulation policies made under the previous administration, according to scientificamerican.com The Paris Climate Agreement is an international accord that aims to limit the global temperature increase in this century and includes commitments from all high emitting countries to reduce their climate pollution.  The United States formally withdrew from this agreement in November 2020 and officially rejoined February 19, according to nrdc.org

Seniors Hadley Noonan and Mary O’Connor are co-heads of the Upper School Sustainability Club.  Hadley spoke on the symbolic impact of the Paris Climate Agreement and the responsibility that she feels political leaders have in addressing the climate crisis.

President Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement January 20.  Courtesy of Mr. Chip Somodevilla

“I definitely think that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed by both federal and global leaders,” Hadley said.  “Unfortunately, climate change legislation often becomes politicized so approving particular pieces of legislation is a slow process.  When former President Trump left the Paris Agreement, it signaled to Americans and to the rest of the world that climate change is not an issue that the United States is particularly focused on.  Though many see the agreement as a simple formality, it is extremely symbolic of our priorities.”

In 2017, the Trump Administration granted a permit to the TransCanada Energy Incorporation to establish the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  The pipeline would have transported crude oil from the Alberta oil fields in Canada to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico.  Mr. Biden revoked this permit January 20 via executive order, claiming that the permit was inconsistent with his administration’s plan for climate reform, according to scientificamerican.com.

The recent actions by the Biden Administration occur in fulfillment of Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to combat global warming.  Scientists assert that climate change and its effects are accelerating and require immediate action.  In recent years, sea levels and temperatures are rising, glaciers continue melting at a high rate, and the Earth’s overall temperature is increasing, according to The New York Times.  During a press briefing January 27, Mr. Biden reiterated his commitment to urgently addressing the issue.

“In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis and we can’t wait any longer,” Mr. Biden said, according to whitehouse.gov.  “We see it with our own eyes, we feel it, we know it in our bones, and it’s time to act.”

For the past four years, grassroots organizations have taken a more active role in speaking out against of climate issues that they believe the Federal Government failed in addressing.  Several environmental advocacy groups, such as the Sunrise Movement, a youth-driven non-profit organization, gained national attention in recent years due to their community-driven efforts to stop global warming.  The movement also garnered national attention earlier this year after publishing a mandate outlining expectations for the new administration’s environmental policies.

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-driven climate advocacy group, spent recent years calling for changes to United States environmental policies.  Courtesy of Ms. Rachael Warriner

Within Sacred Heart, members of the school community work with various grade levels to encourage student to live more environmentally-conscious lifestyles.  The Sustainability Club hopes to achieve this by encouraging students in the Upper School to implement small changes to their daily habits.  Last year, the group sold reusable tumblers to discourage the use of single-use plastic items.  This year, they hope to launch a campaign that will reduce the amount of meat served in the school cafeteria.  Hadley believes that small changes can make a large impact on the environment.

“I truly believe that the best way students can get involved is by making small changes,” Hadley said.  “I think that people can get intimidated by all of the larger changes that we often hear about in the media, like electric cars and solar panels.  I cut out red meat from my diet nearly three years ago because of its environmental impact, and the transition has been seamless.  I also think that the pandemic has accentuated the need for reusable products, whether they be cups, straws, masks, grocery bags, and utensils.  Though it sounds trite, ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is a perfect model for implementing sustainability into our lives.  Even without investing in new products, reusing plastic bags and recycling properly are two great changes to make.”

Similarly, Ms. Katie Donahue, Middle School Science Teacher, encourages her students to develop habits that are healthier for the environment.  Throughout the school year, Ms. Donahue helps students run the Middle School recycling initiatives and raise awareness for various climate issues within the classroom.  The Middle School also partnered with 25 other schools in the town of Greenwich to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Week.  During the week, students participated in daily virtual activities in honor of the holiday.  Ms. Donahue expressed that the actions of individuals can spark meaningful change, especially when drawing attention to issues that government officials have overlooked.  She urges students to do what they can to make an impact.

“I have always been inspired by the power of collective action,” Ms. Donahue said.  “Sometimes, it is hard to see how our actions can have an impact in a world that is so big.  When we take a step back and see if everyone acted like we did, there is a much bigger consequence.  Greta Thunberg is a wonderful example.  Passionate about the climate and the world in which she is inheriting, she began protesting outside the Parliament building each Friday with a few other activists.  Initially, government officials did not pay much attention to this small crowd.  Yet, Greta held firm in her conviction and continued to protest, using social media to draw attention to her Fridays for the Future campaign.  I encourage students to find the power in their voice and actions; we don’t have to inspire an international movement in order to make an impact.”

Featured Image by Leah Allen ’22