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We're Sending the Wrong Message About Climate Change

09/26/2014 08:15 EDT | Updated 11/26/2014 05:59 EST
JACQUES DEMARTHON via Getty Images
US Economist Jeffrey Sachs listens to a speech by the French Foreign Affairs Minister after he received the 'Deep Decarbonization Pathways' report on July 10, 2014 at the French Foreign Ministry, in Paris. The report aims in helping countries transition towards a low-carbon economy by 2050. AFP PHOTO / JACQUES DEMARTHON (Photo credit should read JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)

"If you're not afraid, I strongly advise you be afraid. "

I am not exactly sure why Jeffrey Sachs has chosen to say so when he addressed the United Nations Climate Summit earlier this week in New York City. As a medical student, a global health lover, and a young climate activist, I closely follow the environmental discussions. I have been one of those happy kids who would genuinely believe our natural environment should be protected. Maybe it was because of my young love for whales or wild animals. Or my vivid interest as a five years old to know and understand where the Earth was from and how it was formed. It appears quite natural to me that our ways of living shouldn't exceed the actual capacities of the Earth.

Among all the health related topics I could have chosen when I entered medical school, climate change was the one that caught my attention. An unusual choice for a young woman who just started her training many would argue. But I didn't question much the underlying reasons and I started my own personal research. There has always been something that seems a bit off to me in almost all of the discussions I had, the articles I read, and the conferences I attended. It is only recently that I have started to figure out what it was.

I have heard a lot about how threatening climate change is, especially for human health and well-being. I know about the melting ice caps, I know about the droughts, the floods, the typhoons, the forest fires. I know about the climate refugees, I know about social insecurity. I know about the air pollution and the depletion of the ozone layer. I know about the skepticism and the so-called scientific debate. I know that we certainly haven't done enough in the past years. I know that we have often chosen not to act. I know that we are at a tipping point, and I know it is already too late to say we won't suffer. I know all of that.

But what I realized is that we screaming to the world, to the politicians, to the big companies, to children that climate change is scary doesn't work anymore. I don't want to be afraid, I want to be confident. Fear doesn't mobilize people, it gives them a sense of despair; a sense that nothing can be done because the challenge is too big for us to tackle. Our message about climate change needs to be frame differently.

I firmly believe that climate change is an opportunity, probably the biggest of all times. It is our opportunity to make the world a better place, as cliché as it might sound. It is our opportunity to find a balance between the growing human population and the environment we live in. It is our opportunity to have stronger and more sustainable economies. It is our opportunity to be one and to send a positive message to the generations to come. It is our opportunity to make our people healthier and happier.

Climate change is an opportunity. And there are millions of lives that we can save.

A strong political will is necessary, and we urgently need to adopt international binding treaties and national public policies that illustrate our long-term commitment. But politicians will only think beyond their 4-year political mandate if we start to truly believe in our own capacities to adapt, prevent, mitigate and act.

I have every right to be hopeful because I am confident we can shape our present and our future as we want. A future where all have access to a safe and healthy environment. We have the capacity; the facts and the science are supporting us. This world is within our reach.

And this is what we and all political leaders should focus on. Climate change is not a lost cause, it is our chance.

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