Two summers ago, I spent three months at a biological field station in the middle of the mountains in Colorado, doing research for my thesis. I lived in a small cabin called “Mammal Lab” with six other college girls who were also doing their own research. We slept on army cots, the cabin had no heat or running water, and we had to use an outhouse. It was awesome.
One of my cabinmates was Ellie Johnston, who is from Asheville, North Carolina. Over the past year and a half, Ellie has remained an ecology student but also devoted herself more and more to environmental activism and organizing. At this very moment, she’s in Copenhagen at the climate talks as part of the US youth delegation. Go Ellie! I feel lucky to know someone so awesome.
For a little inspiration, here’s an excerpt from a speech that Ellie gave:
Climate change raises our awareness of a lot of things. Though most important it teaches us that we must look out for the children. I am one of those children- although I’m growing up, I still stand firmly among the 3 billion people on this planet under the age of 24. Three billion people is equivalent to the global population in 1960. Today these 3 billion young people around the world stand to inherit a planet whose at once seemingly limitless bounty is now exhausted. There are few final frontiers left to inspire wonder and awe – the west is settled, the moon has been explored, and the oceans and mountains have been mapped. Though there is one left. One which continually insights inspiration and promise for me. And that perhaps is the ultimate frontier left for us—it is that of sustaining life.
As I’ve been following the international climate negotiations it has become apparent that not enough of our politicians get it. I hope today we can change their minds. Too easily we have seen our congressional climate and energy legislation become flooded with loopholes and giveaways for big oil and coal companies who complain about their bottom line as they rake in millions of profits annually and make war on the Appalachian way of life. Too easily we have sat back as President Obama has failed to follow his words with action to address climate change. Our global emissions must peak and begin to decline by 2015 at the latest. We must reduce our emission to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050. We must get our atmospheric concentration of CO2 down from 387ppm to 350ppm.
Don’t let the ceaseless stream of doomsday facts stun you into a hopeless and fatalistic state. They are merely the anticipation of what will happen if we are not committed. 350 represents this commitment, you all represent this commitment, and the children here today represent this commitment.
So what are we to do?
First we must breathe…. some of us are holding our breath waiting for something that we can only create – have confidence in yourself. Our biggest impediment to change is more than often ourselves.
Second we have to value life… there are dozens of ways to address climate change but if we choose methods that undermine people’s livelihoods anywhere than we are promoting an end which is no better than what climate change is creating itself. Coal, oil, and nuclear undermine people’s livelihoods – these are not energy solutions.
Third we must engage…. engage in our communities, engage in our political systems, and engage in our environment. We have to learn, we have to teach, and we have to share with everyone everyday.
Finally we have to take care of the children. There is a burden being passed on to us that is unjust. Young people worldwide recognize that climate change is the challenge of our generation and that we must take our future into our own hands. We are united in our vision and know that we must work together to achieve health and security for our communities—we are united for climate justice. We know that it is not about what works for one but what works for us all.
We can do this. Don’t wait for the captain planets of this world to take action. Do what you can today and keep doing more. I need your help; we all need your help. Today by taking action out in our community we are taking a phenomenal step towards the answer to my question for decision makers the world over. My question is: when will we matter?