A layer of smog covers downtown L.A. (Lawrence K. H / Los Angeles Times)
Girls Academic Leadership Academy

Humans’ lack of concern with climate change: From the 1930s to 2021

Dating back to the ancient Greeks, scholars have understood there to be a connection between the actions of humans and the reaction of the environment. Such a concept was first coined the “greenhouse effect” in 1896 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius.

As the world catapulted into the 20th century, however, not everyone was as open to the idea of humans taking accountability for the environment.

As the climate warmed, most scientists dismissed Arrhenius’ prior warnings until the heat increase was undeniable. Still though, little was done to work against the force of climate change. 

Observable throughout history, karma has a way of resurfacing, and America was soon to feel the environment’s wrath. In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl hit the over farmed, deforested, and drought-ridden plains of Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, and other neighboring areas, killing livestock, people, and spirit in what can only be described as a wake-up call — and wake-up is just what the country did. 

Newly inaugurated President Franklin Roosevelt sprung into action, making the environment one of his top priorities while in office. He passed the New Deal, pushed the Farm Security Administration to provide emergency relief, and funded the Soil Conservation Service which taught farmers on the Great Plains about stem erosion and how to avoid it. Roosevelt used an executive order to launch the Shelterbelt Project, in which more than 200 million trees were planted surrounding the most at-risk areas to prevent dangerous winds.

Despite the Great Depression, the nation was able to work together to make sure such a tragedy never happened again. 

FDR’s prevention plans worked, and since the Dust Bowl, the United States has seen no wind storms anywhere close to as egregious as the 1930s tragedy. Unfortunately, the country continues to be plagued with natural disasters, and federal help is nowhere near as present as it was a hundred years ago.

The California wildfires, for instance, burned more than 4 million acres of land in 2020 alone, and while California Governor Newsom labeled the fires as a state-wide emergency, then-President Trump refused to send help, criticized Newsom, and made ambiguous threats to cut the state off from federal funding.  

Though Trump later went back on his “revenge” and granted the state Fire Management Assistance Grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, his delayed response indicates how 21st-century politicians use natural disaster relief as a form of political leverage. Coupled with Trump’s long history of remarks reducing climate change to nothing more than a hoax, such as “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese,” further indicates that the job of repairing Mother Nature is not one that top politicians feel they need to fill.

As our planet grows increasingly more ill, the lack of care for the environment that politicians hold grows more and more evident. Despite — and due — to this, young climate activists have stepped up to the challenge, like TIME Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg. And, with President Joe Biden already having rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement within his first weeks of office and his promise to find a compromise with the Green New Deal, there is a renewed hope that the U.S. may soon return to working to repair the planet.

The days left for humans on planet Earth are growing increasingly numbered. Politicians have the power to make real change toward a healthier planet.