On September 20th, 2019, more than 60,000 students and adults who walked out of work and school, screamed for change as they marched from the crowded quarters of Foley Square to Battery Park in New York City. Small children clutched the hands of their parents as they stared up into a sea of green and blue hand-painted signs. Teens, including over 60 East Side students, flooded the streets, shouting, “Hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go!” It seemed then, with adrenaline pumping through New York’s veins, that this was the start of a climate revolution.
Now, more than three months later, many of these same protesters feel unsure how to proceed. They are faced once again with the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that our changing planet brings. Over the past month, fifteen students from East Side Community and other New York City Schools, many of whom had walked out on the 20th, were interviewed on how they felt about climate change. Out of the fifteen, 100% feel climate change will have a big impact on their future. Ten out of the fifteen feel hopeless about climate change, three feel somewhere between hopeful and hopeless, and two feel hopeful.
Marc Sole, the 11th grade biology teacher, still has hope for our ever-changing planet. Sole incorporates the crisis of climate change and the importance of sustainability into his curriculum. He thinks climate change can be reversible, but that “it is getting harder each and every day,” especially as more harmful policies are put in place. Despite this, he is hopeful because so many more people have become aware of the detriments of the changing climate since he started teaching.
Students interviewed said they would consider cutting down emissions, but admitted they either had no clue on how to do so, or they felt the actions they had taken so far, like walking more or using less plastic, seemed like not enough. Hearing from these students demonstrated that many, especially young people, acknowledge that climate change is a problem, are willing to take action, but are not sure how to.
Jade Lozada, a senior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, was instrumental in organizing the Climate Strike in New York City. Organizing the march was hands on, taxing work, but at the end of the day she and her teammates were successful in organizing a 60,000 person strike. Their work was recognized by Great Thurnberg, who stood next to Lozada on stage at the rally.
This is an important topic for Lozada because the consequences of climate change “target lower income communities, and those lower income communities are almost all black and brown. There is a racial component” to the injustices of climate change. Our government gives these communities, who are disproportionately affected, fewer opportunities to fight the changing climate. “If you go to the Bronx I am sure there are lots of kids who have asthma because of the diesel fumes being pumped out into their neighborhoods from passing trucks, but their parents drive those trucks,” Lozada says on the vicious cycle of governments in trapping low income communities with fossil fuels.
A New York City program called 350 NYC has partnered with CleanChoice Energy (https://cleanchoiceenergy.com/partner/350NYC) in order to provide a program where New Yorkers can power their households solely with solar and wind energy. If it is possible to completely switch over to clean, renewable energy, why isn’t everyone doing so? According to one New Yorker it isn’t as easy as it sounds. “Anyone who has energy assistance has to stick with fossil fuels,” she said, after she tried to switch to clean energy and was rejected because she took benefits for her energy bills. It is important for New Yorkers to look into trying to switch over to clean energy if possible, but many low income citizens are unable to have this option.
Lozada feels that the climate movement is no longer focused on personal environmentalism. It is no longer about using less plastic or recycling. “It’s about going after the people who are doing nothing about it, governments and fossil fuel companies that are responsible for the vast majority of pollution in the first place.” She wants to be part of reshaping the climate movement and holding our leaders accountable. It is important to do the small things like not buying plastic water bottles or bringing reusable bags to the supermarket, but the biggest thing a person can do is to use one’s voice to call out the people “at the top.”
One of the main ways someone can make a difference is by writing, calling, or emailing an elected representative. Lozada recently found that “When you call a rep and an intern picks up they have to write down what you say, and eventually they have to print it out and put it on the desk of the representative. And I did not know that, but it is true.” Imagine if all students from even five schools wrote to their district representative about climate change, that would mean approximately 2,000 messages would end up at that representative’s desk.
Another action teens can take is to have conversations with people who they do not agree with. “For something this urgent we should be encouraging ourselves to call up that relative in Pennsylvania or Ohio or whatever and say ‘look this is a real problem and this is how it’s going to affect you…’” Lozada states. To overcome climate change and the divide in this country, it is essential to go across the aisle and meet those who may have different views in the middle. People are often so convinced that their opinion is the only “right” opinion, that they shun and look down upon those with different opinions instead of talking and trying to work out solutions.
So what can an individual do about climate change? To start, it is important to do all the things recommended over and over again: recycle, reuse water bottles and bags, reduce plastic and waste, walk more instead of taking a car, turn off lights when they are not in use, shut off the water when brushing teeth, and look into switching over to renewable energy. But, it is also important to take it beyond personal environmentalism and write or call representatives, talk to conservative relatives about climate concerns, and keep going to local and national protests and marches. After all, the biggest weapon we have is our voice.