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Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

The scariest movie I’ve ever watched is Twister. It's a thriller about natural disasters, and it continues to frighten me. Watching tornadoes rip through homes and the powerlessness of humans in the face of nature is humbling. This week, Tropical Storm Isaias brought two tornadoes and ravished Pennsylvania. One of them traveled from Northeast Philadelphia to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, ripping up trees and tossing cars effortlessly. In Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River engorged, and brought extreme flooding to my Philly neighborhood of Manayunk; I had to take a different route on my morning walk to avoid submerged cars and buildings. Science tells us that storms are getting stronger. This week, Isaias illuminated that reality. 

Now that the water has subsided, the worst aspects of Isaias’ wrath are clear: nine people were killed. Unfortunately, one of them was a 5-year-old girl that left her home during the storm and was ultimately swept away by flooding. As we live through a pandemic, research reveals that climate change and disease outbreaks are closely aligned. As more animals respond to environmental changes, they migrate and come in contact with new animals. This interaction facilitates the opportunity for pathogens to pass into new hosts. This contact is what caused the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a member of SCUE, the first project I contributed towards was our paper on the importance of implementing a sustainability requirement. Only two of our peer Ivy League institutions, Cornell and Harvard, offer environmental requirements within coursework. And students from those two universities will graduate with the ability to address the impact of rising temperatures better than us. 

We need to be leaders against climate change. At Penn, we have an abundance of voluntary ways to get involved and learn about the impacts of climate change. We can watch the 1.5 Minute Climate Lectures, join student protests with Fossil Free Penn, or attend campus-wide events like “Designing a New Green Deal.” Grade school students should be required to learn about climate change and its impacts on human society. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Department of Education altered its curriculum requirements to include climate change education. Pennsylvania should follow suit and Penn should make one of the foundational requirements or sectors a course on climate change. We are behind, and we need to catch up.

Ultimately, there is no doubt that campus initiatives create a space for sustainability education, but they are optional. We need everyone to be knowledgeable about the inevitable challenges we face. We need to learn from scholars how our sense of “normal” will shift in the coming years. The pandemic unveiled how insufficient responses cause devastation and failure. If Penn is home to the leaders of tomorrow, then we need to prepare our response to the ticking time bomb that is climate change. Let’s follow the wise words of 2020 College graduate Jacob Hershman and “feed two birds with one scone”: Here at Penn, we must learn about how the world will change while working to fight this most pressing threat to humanity.

JESSICA GOODING is a rising College senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania studying History and English. Her email address is jgooding@sas.upenn.edu.

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