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Climate Change, Fun and Student Loan Debt: EHS Today’s Weekly Reads

April 8, 2022
Some news of note that highlights our interdependence on one another and the planet.

We’re trying to think spring, and all the wonders the season beholds. It’s challenging when it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit and there’s so much hurt, harm and ugliness in the world.

Difficult problems unfortunately don’t yield easy answers or clear consensuses. There’s a lot of trial and error and probably some heightened emotions, too. But we’re trying to remind ourselves as much as others that behind those words is passion and desire for more.

We like to think that climate change and college tuition affordability have more common ground than divisiveness, and we hope that new ideas help unite us. The prospect of a better world for ourselves and our posterities is something we firmly stand behind, and we hope to see progress toward that in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, we’re looking at how to inject more joy and laughter into our lives.

We hope these stories help inspire you as much as they inspire us to better days ahead and a new perspective on now.

(Climate) Change is Coming

Two new reports out this week are helping to quantify climate change, though comprehending them is another matter.

After a slight delay, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also released a report, its third in less than eight months. (Read more about the IPCC’s previous report here.) The report warns that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the agreed upon limit in the 2015 Paris Agreement, will require greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025. Methane would also need to be reduced by roughly one-third.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” IPCC Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea said in a statement accompanying the report. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

On Monday, the White House said that by the end of the century, climate change could cost the U.S. federal government about $2 trillion per year. Furthermore, the government could spend an additional $25 to $128 billion each year in related expenses—such as coastal disaster relief, flood insurance, healthcare insurance and flooding at federal facilities—according to an analysis by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which administers the federal budget. This marks the first time in its history that OMB is formally accounting for risks of climate change in the federal budget.

These reports call for immediate changes to lessen the effects of climate change. They’re also timely and might assist President Joe Biden. Last week, he released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, which included $44.9 billion in new funding for climate change, clean energy, clean transportation and environmental justice programs. It’s going to take much more money, cooperation and coordination to limit global warming, but it’s at least another step in that direction.

Instructions for More Fun

This guide, published in late December 2021, came at a time when the omicron variant was tearing through the nation. But the advice is timeless, especially given the state of world affairs.

Over the years, we’ve heard statistics about how little people laugh each day, especially compared to babies and children. We didn’t think much of them until a rare moment when a giggle broke out. It felt good to guffaw, both in that brief moment and for the rest of the day; it’s as though that chuckle changed our whole outlook.

The author of this handy how-to article, Catherine Price, has spent 5 years researching fun for her upcoming book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again. She explains that having fun is no mere laughing matter. In fact, she thinks there’s a formula what she describes as true fun, as “when we experience the confluence of three psychological states: playfulness, connection and flow.”

“Playfulness, connection and flow each have been shown to improve people’s moods and mental health when experienced on their own,” Price writes. “But when people experience these three states at once—in other words, when they have true fun—the effects that they report are almost magical. When people are having actual fun, they report feeling focused and present, free from anxiety and self-criticism. They laugh and feel connected, both to other people and to their authentic selves.”

Price offers four simple steps that can help you channel more fun. We won’t spoil the fun—pun intended—by sharing them here. But what we can say is that it’s a lot like losing weight: We pretty much know what we have to do. Whether we choose to listen, or do we look for alternatives or workarounds like diet pills and shakes, is another matter. Both endeavors require a fair bit of effort, but we’re trying to remember we’re worth it. After all, we only have this one life. Why not live it to the fullest and, dare we say, funnest.

Read the full guide here.

Student Loan Repayments Delayed Again

At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress quickly drafted and President Donald Trump signed into law the CARES Act, which offered many short-term measures to support a nation facing an unprecedented health crisis. One provision has been extended yet again: the pausing of government-backed student loan payments.

Since March 2020, monthly payments and interest have been paused, giving millions of Americans some breathing room. That forbearance period was set to expire next month, and we already saw some publications produce some compelling pieces on what the forbearance has meant for millions of Americans. (The White House announced earlier this week it has been extended a seventh time, until Aug. 31; there are already calls from Congresspeople and other advocates to extend the pause until the end of 2022 and even 2023.)

Here’s one anecdote that is representative of a reality faced by many: Anthony Portesy is a 35-year-old lawyer in Long Island, New York, whose student loan payments are more than $700 a month. Since his loans have been paused, he’s been able to pay off his $1,500 in credit-card debt, max out his Roth IRA and start saving for a home. “I can start thinking about getting married and having a family,” he told Bloomberg. “It’s been able to make me feel like a more productive member of society.”

There are lots of strong feelings about college, college tuition and student loan debt. We won’t wade into those, but we do wish to highlight the significant role it plays in the U.S. economy and on the minds of about 43 million Americans.

Student loan debt has skyrocketed in the U.S., from $200 billion in 2003 to more than $1.6 trillion in 2021. Put another way, student loan debt is higher than auto loans, credit cards and home equity debt, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. Pre-pandemic, one in five adults with student loans were behind on payments, and delinquency rates will likely surge when the forbearance period ends.

This is an evolving situation, and one that gets more complicated when considering high inflation, the semiconductor chip shortage and rising home prices. Millennials are aged 23 to 38, a time in their lives when many would be moving into their first apartments, buying cars, buying a home, getting married or starting a family. That student loan debt may also be holding them back from those important milestones, and that has repercussions for the rest of the population.

Read the piece from Bloomberg here.  

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