The new Biden Administration is making climate change a priority for the United States, after four years of neglect, if not outright denial, under the Trump Administration.
But climate change is a global problem, which requires global solutions, and global support and understanding to help us get there. US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, after a visit to the European Commission, stated that the United States would “work together and with other countries to help the world's most vulnerable cope with the devastating impacts of climate change.“
As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we are acutely aware of the effects of climate change on our relatives, friends, and communities that live around the world:
- Pacific Islanders are under threat from rising sea levels, which threaten to wipe entire communities and nations. Many of Asia’s major cities, from Shanghai to Bangkok, are also threatened from rising sea levels, which lead to coastal flooding.
- Warmer temperatures are leading to stronger typhoons hitting the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan, leading to greater loss of life and damage to property and agriculture.
- Changing weather patterns are also leading to extended periods of drought throughout Asia, spurring desertification in China and increased forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia.
- Finally, dangerous and deadly heat waves regularly sweep through India and Pakistan. Scientists predict that temperatures in parts of South Asia may become too hot for human habitation.
As Americans abroad, we can see the threat that climate change poses to the world first-hand. And as AAPI, many of us have heard personal accounts of those dealing with a changing climate. It is a reminder that the effects of climate change go beyond the United States: all the effects of climate change in America, from hurricanes in the Gulf to forest fires in California and harsh blizzards in the Midwest are matched in Asia. Climate change will only be solved with global solidarity.
However, as overseas Americans, we also understand how our economic structures are merged together to sustain a wasteful and extractive global economic model.
We can see the massive increase in consumption across Asia, driven by increased wages. We know that living standards in Asia have increased often on the basis of environmentally-damaging economic practices (much like what the United States did decades prior). We can see the factories, plantations and urban cities that damage their surrounding environment, yet also provide employment and housing for so many people in this region.
We also know that the United States is not blameless in this development. Americans buy the products made in factories throughout Asia, and eat the food made using produce grown in Asian farms. They rely on services outsourced to those living in major Asian cities in South and Southeast Asia. And, just as importantly, plastics and e-waste are sent to Asia for “recycling”: often just dumped in landfills throughout East and Southeast Asia.
We need to leverage the unique perspective of AAPIs to advocate for a truly global solution to the problem of climate change. To act alone will not solve the problem; the world needs to shift to a more environmentally-friendly model. Nor can the United States ignore its role in sustaining environmentally-damaging practices overseas.
That can be done by acting as the link between all communities that you belong to: with AAPI people in the United States, with Asians living throughout Asia, and with the Asian and Pacific Islander diaspora, whether American or non-American, throughout the world. This will help build global solidarity towards tackling the existential crisis of climate change.