Climate Dispatches: The costs of climate change

The past few weeks have felt choking. Every time I step outside, I feel like I can’t breathe. The walls that keep the smoke out seem to get smaller and smaller as summer crawls on.

The smoke has made me sluggish, lazy even. It’s hard to motivate myself to get up and do anything. It’s hard to breathe, to rest, to exercise. The knowledge that this may be our new reality in the summer is almost impossible to grasp.

In my lifetime, the short thirteen years I’ve been here, our climate has changed. That is the truth. I remember when the summers were cooler, when August wasn’t always blanketed in thick smoke from wildfires. I remember when the snow would last long into the spring and fill up the lakes so that we could jump off the docks without worrying about the rocks below.

It scares me, how the summers seem to keep getting hotter and the smoke just gets thicker. It’s hard for me to acknowledge that this is the world we live in, and it’ll only get worse.

The American Psychiatric Association has linked climate change to mental health issues in both youth and adults. Studies have shown that thinking and learning about climate change has caused depression, anxiety, and stress in youth. For so long, I tried to avoid these feelings—by avoiding the topic itself.

It’s so easy to turn our backs on climate change. It’s so easy to pretend that it’s not a threat to us. It’s so easy for us to retreat into our homes and just wait for the smoke to blow out and continue like nothing ever happened. But as my parents remind me, constantly, the easy way isn’t always the right way.

I’ve been taught that the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge it. With climate change, it’s not as simple as just saying, “Yes, climate change exists” and moving on. We need to be able to confront it, head on, before we can think about solutions.

When I confronted the reality of climate change, all the feelings I’d been trying to protect myself from came rushing. Depression. Hopelessness. Anxiety. They only seem to get worse when a heat wave hits, when smoke envelops the basin. The only way I’ve figured out how to quell those feelings is to work, to talk, to take action. I have thrown myself into working for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Youth Action Team (CCL YAT) to combat my own feelings, to give myself some hope.

I know what it’s like to feel powerless. I know how tempting it is to turn our backs on the world and pretend that climate change will not impact us. I know how strong the urge is to protect ourselves from feelings that we don’t like. But again, the easy way isn’t always the right way.

This is our time to take action. The tide is turning in our government and our President is facing more pressure than ever to take action on our climate crisis. Call your representatives, your senators. Do these things, even if they feel hard.

I urge you to pick your head up, acknowledge our problem. Feel your pain. Use it to motivate yourself to change, to take action—so when the smoke rolls in again next summer, we will have already done something about it, and will continue the fight.

Aili Scott is an 8th grader at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School and lives in Truckee. She is a leader of the National Citizens’ Climate Lobby Youth Action Team and when not working for the climate, one can find her Nordic skiing or baking


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