CLIMATE DISPATCHES: No one is too young to make a difference

Ben Anderson and Janet Atkinson
Guest columnists

The purpose of this ongoing series of “Climate Dispatches” is to share with our neighbors how climate change affects our community and how we can all make a meaningful difference.

In the past few years, we have witnessed a surge of demonstrations with young people at the helm. On climate activism, youth leaders call it as they see it. Young people will be the most affected by climate change. The youth climate movement’s number one plea is to see large-scale action immediately to minimize irreversible chain reactions.

Climate change is both a generational justice and equity issue.

After the emergence of leadership from Greta Thunberg, millions of youth were inspired to join her in pressing for urgent action on climate change. Youth leaders at Truckee-Tahoe schools were definitely struck by Thunberg, the Swedish teen activist. “Once I saw Greta Thunberg and other youth leaders striking and protesting … I realized that larger action is what is needed and that youth like myself can actually make a difference,” said Caroline Sandberg, an incoming senior at Tahoe Expedition Academy. Another student, Aili Scott, from Sierra Expeditionary Learning School, said that she felt a climate strike was a direct and impactful statement that would reach community members.

Local youth joined the movement in a big way on Sept. 20, 2019, when young people from around the globe participated in a momentous climate strike. It presented the perfect way to involve people who wouldn’t typically discuss climate change and amplify the passion of those who would. Many students were eager to participate from the onset, so it was simply a matter of making the objective come to fruition. A remarkable amount of youth already knew about the global climate strike through social media, even before the Truckee event was planned.

Leading up to the day, students coordinated town-wide efforts and held sign-making workshops. Aili recalled how she and her sister organized their school’s participation, supervised sign making, and synchronized timing with their teachers. She emphasized, “My generation’s right to grow up and grow old in a safe and clean environment is ultimately endangered by climate change.”

At Truckee High School, student organizers were careful to respect instructional time, so they left classes 10 minutes prior to their lunch break. They were joined by hundreds of people, including community members and students from other area schools, in a demonstration along Donner Pass Road. THS student organizer, Evan Anderson, remarked, “I wanted to bring attention to the climate crisis among our student body while demonstrating that youth have a voice.” Globally, approximately 10 million demonstrators took to the streets to voice their demands for climate action from September 20-27, 2019.

During the strike, some local student demonstrators were asked about why they were participating. A few cited equity, due to the disproportional health impacts to communities of color and the global South from air and environmental pollution, and more erratic and intense climate related disasters. Racial and environmental justice intertwined on multiple facets was also mentioned.

Climate change can also weigh heavily on the younger generation. Just as children need to trust that a caregiver will be there for them to assure healthy psychological development, they need to trust that their environment will be safe as well. Psychologists are starting to see instances of eco-anxiety, a sense of insecurity that sets in when people realize that the environment might be dramatically altered. It can be a feeling of loss that is hard to reconcile because climate change is ongoing. “As the temperature warms, Tahoe’s snowfall will continue to lessen. I hope to one day take my kids out skiing in Tahoe, but this will not be possible if we keep releasing the same amount of carbon that we are now. It’s very upsetting,” said Caroline.

On the anniversary of last year’s strike, local youth are looking at the direction of the climate movement. Soon to be seventh-grader Aili said, “Although we’re just kids, we have minds and hearts that can understand the amount of damage that climate change does.” Then Caroline added, “The youth today have the knowledge and tools to make a difference. If we can continue to educate our peers and persuade world leaders to take action now, by the time we are all old enough to vote and really make meaningful change, we will have a positive future. But climate change will also not wait until then, so we need to take other actions. Climate striking is one of those ways, and it is a simple action. Now that we are in isolation, we can be even more creative to find ways to strike and send letters to our representatives.”

This fall, Fridays for Future, an organization, founded by Greta Thunberg, has set aside Sept. 25 for a Global Day of Action for the climate. Demonstrations and manifestations will take place around the world, all adjusted according to COVID-19. Tahoe’s youth climate leaders will no doubt be organizing too. Evan agrees, “I am so proud of my generation for deciding not to tolerate inaction and for coming together to fight for our futures.”

“We are the change and change is coming.” — Greta Thunberg

Ben Anderson is an incoming senior at Truckee High School, Co-President of the Truckee High Envirolution Club, and member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby North Tahoe. Janet Atkinson is a parent of two teenagers and has over 20 years experience as an elementary school teacher. Atkinson is a climate advocate with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Schools for Climate Action.

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