A few years ago, my friend and I had a conversation about the future of the world. We were both in our late teens, strolling down Lyndale Avenue following an afternoon of thrift shopping. At the time, my friend was working as a canvasser for an environmental organization. On issues of climate change, I had spent several years going to marches, signing petitions, and organizing. We were both passionate and involved in the fight for environmental justice.
“At this point, given how far global warming has progressed, and how slow reforms are being enacted, the earth is definitely going to experience a serious environmental disaster. It’s going to get really ugly,” I said.
“I agree,” my friend replied. “But then people will finally take it seriously and start doing something. It’ll be too late for us to escape all damage, but it might not be totally apocalyptic.”
I nodded. “Yeah, humans are tough. Some of us will probably survive.”
I was born in 1999. Like most of my peers, I have never known a world in which I wasn’t aware of and concerned about climate change. The challenge I have faced is not coming to terms with the reality of climate change — it is finding the will to fight what often feels like a losing battle.
For decades, climate statistics have told an alarming tale, and each year it gets worse. Sea levels are rising, the temperature is rising, the numbers of animals and plants going extinct are rising. Even as more and more people get involved in the fight for environmental justice, too many governments and major corporations continue to demonstrate stunning apathy when it comes to addressing climate change. Without their cooperation and leadership, it is almost impossible to implement the kind of radical change we need to make a meaningful difference in our planet’s future. Meanwhile, existing inequalities are stressed by the consequences of climate change. Low-income and marginalized communities bear the brunt of this crisis.
When I look at the big picture, I feel helpless, hopeless, and defeated. So, I look at the small picture, even though that is also sad. I think about how, if sea levels continue to rise, New York City — the place where my parents met and where I was born — will be flooded beyond recognition. I think about never getting to see a healthy coral reef. I think about how cute koalas are.
Climate change is often framed as a big picture issue, but it is important to not forget how deeply personal its consequences are. This is particularly true for my peers and I. I have found that reminding myself of what’s at stake, not just for humanity and the planet, but for me, personally, is one of the best ways to stop feeling overwhelmed and start feeling determined.
To be honest, I’m still pessimistic. My friend and I haven’t ceased outlining apocalyptic scenarios. But we also haven’t stopped fighting and we never will. How could we? It is our lives and our future that are at stake.
Siena Iwasaki Milbauer (she/her) has worked with NARAL Pro-choice and the League of Women Voters. She is taking an online course with the Sunrise Movement, a young-person led environmental organization, so she can stay active in the fight for climate justice in a social-distancing friendly way.
Tapestry — Annie Hejny: In Nature
Ecosystem — Silent Spring: Ecology and Economics
Health & Healing — Kyoko Katayama: Urgency and Timelessness
Art of Living — Beaudelaine Pierre: La Régle des Trois Unités
Perspective — Siena Iwasaki Milbauer: This is Personal
Action = Change — SeeDo: 50th Anniversary of Earth Day
WomensPress.com — Stories You Might Have Missed
Cover Artwork: “Growing Community,” 48’ x 60’, Alison Price, alisonpricestudios.com