ZOE PAVLIK, 17
Zoe Pavlik is a student at River High School in Durham, North Carolina. She is a persuasive writer and is always ready to have a discussion about issues both important or mundane. Pavlik has spoken at the March for Our Lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and written a letter to the editor about climate issues that was published on 350NH, an organizing website.
Pavlik still remembers the moment in first grade that she began to realize the full impact that humans are having on the planet. Since then, she has been passionate about environmental issues. She is particularly concerned about the way the current United States government is choosing to ignore climate change. Pavlik believes that making major changes in the way we live and working towards solving the current climate crisis are necessary steps to ensure today’s youth and future generations a liveable world. She has recently been involved with climate activism and also helped organize and run a climate action forum in her community. She designed a 60-day zero waste challenge program to work on her own awareness of waste in her daily life and to encourage others to do the same.
Pavlik plans on going to college after she graduates high school in 2020 and will continue being active on environmental issues in the future.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
by Zoe Pavlik
Environmental issues are not usually at the forefront of the average American’s mind. Should they be? Oftentimes, the impacts of our actions that are most detrimental to the environment, such as climate change and huge amounts of plastic, are hard to see in everyday life and don’t always affect us directly. Does that make it too easy for us to push them from our minds?
When I traveled to Nicaragua a few years ago, there were many differences between it and the United States, but one was particularly striking to me. Lacking waste management, many people had no easy way to dispose their trash, and the effects were everywhere. Throughout the different areas we visited, my family saw beautiful scenery and natural wonders, but we also saw plastic bags strewn in people’s yards and ditches clogged with piles of trash. Burning was also a common disposal method; the smell of open trash fires easily distinguishable to me after a few weeks of being there. When I noticed these things, the hierarchy of needs came to mind. In a country historically marked by political struggles and in areas with high rates of poverty, thinking about the environment was not likely to be at the top of people’s list, and even if it was, the lack of infrastructure, regulations, and resources made things like trash disposal much more difficult. Being in Nicaragua it was easy for us, as Americans, to see the difference in the way trash was disposed of— seeing trash dumped in a river or on a street corner— and to think that it was bad for the people and for the environment. How hypocritical were those thoughts?
In the United States we have a well-established system of waste collection and disposal. But do we treat the environment better? We are one of the richest countries in the world and we have had a stable government for hundreds of years. What have we done with these advantages? We have the resources to make throwing something away an easy, thoughtless action for our average citizen. The enormous amount of plastic we produce doesn’t just disappear, but since it is out of our way and is disposed of in a controlled system, most Americans don’t have to deal with it on a daily basis. Although our trash is something that would have a large impact on our lives if we didn’t manage it, it is by far not the only way we are harming the environment. Once we take care of the clearly visible and inconvenient problems, do we push the environmental issues that don’t directly affect us out of our nation’s problem hierarchy?
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the United States had the second largest net emissions of carbon dioxide in 2015 behind China, and we had 15% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Whether we notice it or not, these emissions are having a huge impact on the environment. According to NASA, the greenhouse gases we product have caused the planet’s average temperature to rise about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s. We have had five record warmest years since 2010. Global climate change is causing sea level rise, the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and more extreme weather events. Most of us already know these things, yet our emissions remain high. And we probably won’t be the ones to suffer the consequences of our actions. Nicaragua’s emissions are less than one percent of the global total, and so are the emissions of the countries likely to suffer the most from climate change. It is predicted that poorer countries, many near the equator or at low sea levels, will experience much higher levels of temperature fluctuations, extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other catastrophic effects of climate change. These are not the countries near the top of the emissions list. We are, and we, along with other wealthier, more developed countries, are the ones causing the problem.
It seems easy for us to ignore our effects on the world’s climate. Unlike in Nicaragua, where the waste management problem was easy to see and affected the lives of everyday citizens in a concrete way, we do not always see or notice the effects of our emissions. Climate change is a concern for environmentalists. People routinely deny its existence and any legislation trying to do something about it is blocked. We recently withdrew from an agreement with other countries who are trying to do something to fight climate change. This is not only a result of individuals, including our administration, who choose to be less environmentally conscious, but it is also a result of how our culture views this issue. We need to take responsibility for what we are doing to the world and what its consequences. We need to realize that our everyday actions have huge consequences, even if we can’t see them. We need to elect an administration that will actually do something about this and make climate change a top priority because we have the privilege to.
“Analysis | Trump Withdrew from the Paris Climate Deal a Year Ago. Here's What Has Changed.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 June 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/06/01/trump-withdrew-from-the-paris-climate-plan-a-year-ago-heres-what-has-changed/?utm_term=.c4def18a201d.
“Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” NASA, NASA, 8 Aug. 2018, climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.
“Climate Change Will Affect Developing Countries More than Rich Ones.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 9 May 2018, www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2018/05/09/climate-change-will-affect-developing-countries-more-than-rich-ones.
“Each Country's Share of CO2 Emissions.” Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html#.W5v8eehKjIU.