Students speak out on climate change
By Elizabeth Lande, Copy Editor
In recent years, scientists and climate activists have reported an increase in rates of global warming-related phenomenon, from rising temperatures and sea levels to deforestation and the negative effects of greenhouse gases. The battle has now turned political, with groups debating the best ways to solve such problems.
However, many young people believe that politicians aren’t doing nearly enough to address the issues. In response, youth across the globe have taken the problem into their own hands.
Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate change activist Great Thunberg is particularly well-known for her encouragement and organization of the global school climate strike held on Friday, March 15. Students from over 125 countries skipped school in hopes of prompting local, and national governments to begin taking direct action on climate change.
Vashon held a strike outside the VCA, but it was not directly connected to the schools. More students attended Seattle’s strike, held in Cal Anderson Park, where local activists and politicians spoke to a largely teenage crowd about their experiences with the issue; the presentations included poetry and speeches.
“We listened to a bunch of speakers who talked about … the politics of the environment,” senior protest attendee Alex Lee said. “[They talked about ] how different politicians are interacting with it, and how it’s just being shoved deeper and deeper into legislation and it’s just being buried.”
Becoming proactive about preventing such legislative neglect has become a primary goal of the increasingly youth-led movement.
“It’s a cause that I feel really passionately about,” senior Julia Macray, who also attended the protest, said. “I feel that showing political leaders that kids, kids who will be voting within the next few elections, if not already, care deeply about the issue [because it] is really important.”
Many youths feel motivated to act on climate change because of the previous generations’ lack of action. Teenagers hope to counteract this neglect and preserve the earth for the future.
“We’re all in this together, and our generation is going to have to be the ones to change the direction we as a species are moving in,” Macray said. “Our parents and grandparents really screwed us over, but we can’t stop and resent that. We have to get to work and make changes.”
As the coming generation reaches voting age, a large portion of these changes will likely come from political support for environmental agendas such as the Green New Deal or political candidates sympathetic to the environmentalist cause. Teenagers haven’t backed down from criticizing politics, either, and spoke strongly against Trump’s decision to remove the US from the Paris Climate Accords.
In addition to the political side, the movement promotes being conscious of the issues at hand, and making small changes to reduce individual carbon footprints, such as riding the bus or purchasing used clothing. While focusing on the severity of the situation can be discouraging, teens insist it’s vital to raising awareness.
“This is an issue that is affecting everyone,” Macray said. “If you’re not directly feeling the impact of climate change now, you will be within the next decade. Also, climate change impacts minority groups more, and poorer demographics are hit harder by the effects of rising sea levels, more extreme temperatures, and all the other results of the changing global climate. It’s an issue that everyone should be interested in.”
Increasingly, youth are showing their interest by pursuing careers related to climate change activism, including Swan, who plans to focus on environmental studies in college.
“I am quite into urban planning, so specifically planning cities in a way that is greener,” he said. “If we can shape the psychology of how humans interact with their environment, you can then shape what kind of impact we have on the environment.”
Living in the Pacific Northwest provides a unique perspective as well.
“I get to see the Olympic mountains with snow on them right now, but will my children, or someone else’s children in the future, be able to see that?” Swan said.
Looking ahead, youth view the issue with both optimism and doubt, balancing the current positives of growing clean energy with the possibility of continued fossil fuel use.
“There’s a lot of great things that are going on: more buildings with solar panels, and wind energy and all sorts of creative uses like geothermal energy,” Swan said. “However, I’m quite unsure and curious about how all of it is going to play out…. I think it’s up to this new generation that’s really into the environment and protecting it to make those changes.”
Regardless of the outcome, youth are continuing to push for action.
“It may not be possible to reverse the effects of climate change, but we can and must stop it from getting worse,” Macray said.