Posted on June 10, 2022 at 2:45 pm
The environmental movement at my school has three historians at its helm. Two of them are my our school’s senior-most history teacher and his son. They lead our FFF chapter. The third is me, the winner of our school’s history award for students and the founder of our school’s Eco Team. The teacher and I often talk about the lessons of the past, and one of our chief disagreements is the extent to which people determine their own history.
My teacher believes that history is mainly driven by unpredictable events spiraling out of control. And me? I may still have the impetuous zeal of youth, but I have faith that we humans, especially youth, can act individually and collectively in the name of our shared moral responsibilities to forge a future based upon our visions. Especially now. We youth can do this by acknowledging the reality of this climate crisis, creating change alongside adults at the local level, calling for accountability from our leaders at the state level, and reminding ourselves and our leaders to leave a legacy of lasting impact.
1. This crisis is real. This crisis is here in Delaware.
When we look at the climate situation in Delaware, it really does look like something has spiraled out of control. We are the lowest-lying state with an average elevation of only sixty feet. Apocalyptic flooding, soaring temperatures, and violent storms loom ahead if we cannot collectively address the impending climate crisis.
And yet, Delaware’s government policy is pushed around by shifting national trends. One example: in 2017, then-President Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord and named (one cannot make this up) the CEO of Exxon Mobil to lead his Cabinet. Leaders in Delaware and other states had to scramble for new climate solutions, and this led to the formation of the US Climate Alliance. And yet, the goals of the US Climate Alliance bear no more legal weight than those of the Paris Accord: by 2030, the Climate Alliance seeks a 50-52% reduction in emissions by 2030, whereas Delaware’s much weaker Climate Action Plan suggests a 40% reduction by 2035.
2. The power of youth alone cannot be a panacea for this situation. But we, the youth, have a special capacity to create dialogue with adults to enact real change at the local level.
I recognized this when I founded my school’s Eco Team in 8th Grade. My original vision was to craft an alliance of representatives from all parts of the school community to secure the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA certification for my school. I spent the better part of that school year recruiting a broad coalition of students from various grades and teachers in every division to sit alongside administrators and the grounds crews at bi-monthly meetings. The rest, by comparison was easy: over the course of my 9th grade and 10th grade years, we built a 1500 square foot native species meadow, planted milkweed gardens for the monarch migration at various sites on campus, and ensured that climate education was emphasized in all courses, from Physics to Biology and Art to English. Needless to say, we earned the Bronze level of the award by the end of my 10th grade year. The first year that I spent creating my coalition of students and adults was absolutely necessary and laid the bedrock for all of our future success.
3. In addition, every single individual — especially youth — has enormous power to demand accountability from Delawarean leaders.
I say “especially youth” because the disastrous effects of climate change in Delaware that I mentioned will be primarily affecting us. That is why, when Town Square Delaware began interviewing the students of my school during the climate strike of September 20, 2019, they directed their questions to the youth and not the teachers walking alongside us.
We can channel this power even at the individual level. When I became a leader at the inaugural Delaware Youth Environmental Summit in 2020, I got the privilege of asking the President of the National Wildlife Federation about why his organization emphasized some requirements for Eco-Schools Award above others. In later years of that same summit, I have had the honor of working with Senator Chris Coons, Representative Lisa Blunt-Rochester, and Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz. During the March for our Grandchildren in 2021, I climbed the steps of Chase Bank with a friend and the two of us displayed an environmental banner atop the highest point of the front patio: “BIDEN BE BOLD,” calling for an end to new oil pipelines. I delivered one of the keynote addresses at the March on Biden’s house later that year.
Through these various interactions, I was able to get my voice in favor of climate action to a broader stage on the State of Delaware to an extent I never thought possible.
4. Whether you are a youth or an adult leader, to have a lasting legacy, we must ensure that others carry on our movement.
I just graduated from my high school and will soon be bringing my radical ideas to college and, I hope, around the world. I have already delegated my position on the Eco Team to a younger student. In the last year, he has demonstrated himself to be capable of carrying on my work at the school. I know that with his efforts at recruitment for the team and his bold, innovative projects to reform how waste is handled at my school, my Eco Team is in good hands. At commencement, I broke with convention (I was the only student in my class to do so) and shouted out two words as I reached for my diploma: “go eco!” The applause was thunderous, and I know that my work will continue after I am away.
My message to leaders is this: history is shaped by us! I can feel confident that I have created a legacy of climate action that will be remembered.
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