As an 18-year-old, it feels as though the world is at your fingertips, and the future is bright, bold and new. Or, rather, as an 18-year-old, that is how the world should feel. Unfortunately, for many people my age, it feels as though life is slipping through our fingertips.
The impacts of gun violence and climate change are at the forefront of young people's minds. Though we did not create this mess, young people are held responsible for cleaning it up. With little power to actively reform legislation, our most powerful tool for change is our voice. It is necessary that those of older generations, especially those in positions of power, represent the voices of young people. Unfortunately, the confidence we seek in our elected representatives remains unfulfilled. On issues such as sensible gun control and climate change policies, Congressman Chuck Edwards appears not to be representing my generation at all.
When Edwards introduced his “Chat with Chuck” event in January, my school’s Environmental Club promptly scheduled a meeting. We began the meeting with the following question: “As a high schooler and soon to be college student, I am worried about my safety on campus. We believe that stricter background checks must be mandatory, the minimum age to purchase firearms must be raised, and nobody should have access to automatic or semi-automatic weapons. How do you plan to address the steep rise of gun violence in the United States?”
To this question, Edwards essentially replied, “Nothing. We’re good. I will protect the rights of Americans to purchase guns. I am a firearms dealer myself, and I will not compromise with Democrats. Period.” Furthermore, Edwards argued that, at this time, background checks and regulations required to purchase firearms in the United States are sufficient. If current legislation is effective, how do we explain the staggering rise in preventable gun violence?
In 2022 alone, we had a total of 647 mass shootings in the United States and, according to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, more than 6,000 children and teens were injured or killed in shootings, a record high. Only three months into the year, it looks like we could break that record. This is unacceptable.
On the topic of climate change, we asked Edwards: “How do you plan to increase the use of sustainable energy sources that do not cause environmental degradation and worsen the impacts of climate change?”
To this question, Edwards stumbled through a twisting explanation of how human energy sources have changed through the centuries, how “they” used to record 79.9 degrees as 79 degrees, so the rise in temperatures we see today could be data errors (they are not). He repeatedly stated that we’ve only seen a 1-degree temperature rise, anyway, so the Earth is not at a great risk.
Here are the actual facts on warming, from NOAA: “The roughly 2-degree Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) increase in global average surface temperature that has occurred since the pre-industrial era (1880-1900) might seem small, but it means a significant increase in accumulated heat. That extra heat is driving regional and seasonal temperature extremes, reducing snow cover and sea ice, and intensifying heavy rainfall.” That is to say, the rise in global temperature since the pre-industrial era is not, as Edwards claims, negligible.
In fact, according to En-ROADS, a global climate change simulator, if we continue to operate with a business-as-usual mindset, the Earth is projected to experience a 6.4-degree Fahrenheit (3.6 degrees Celsius) increase in temperature by the year 2100, well above the 1.5-degree Celsius benchmark of irreparable damage. If we wait for young people to have the power to take large-scale, legislative action, it will be too late.
Climate change is real and it is happening now. It is not an issue of politics. Edwards must know that young people, regardless of party affiliation, are distressed about climate change. A 2019 survey by trusted-Republican consultant and pollster Frank Luntz found that nearly 60% of Republicans under 40 years old are concerned about climate change.
When Edwards is gone, when all of today’s politicians are gone, my generation will remain. If we do not take action now, we will be stranded in an unrecognizable world beyond repair.
Please help young people by taking action: write to Congress, attend demonstrations, and educate yourself about the state of gun violence and climate change today. Our voices are stronger together.
Ellsworth Sullivan is a high school senior in Asheville.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Climate change, gun violence concern young people in Asheville