There are many defining and existential moments in every generation. For my grandparents, it was the World Wars and the Great Depression. For my parents, it was the Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. For millennials, the new and unknown world of the internet and later, 9/11. All of these events have shaped how certain age groups view the world around us, especially the threats to the world as we know it. And so, of course, Gen Z has also not escaped the inevitable and existential threat of life as we know it. For us, among other events, it is climate change.
Since fifth grade, I have been constantly reminded that the world around me is changing for the worse. When I first heard about rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, I hadn’t yet lost all my baby teeth. As can probably be discerned, constant reminders of the end of the world throughout my youth had a huge impact on my formation as an individual. I grew up both proactive and anxious – determined and fearful. Although I was inspired to fight for the world around me, my motivation came from a place of terror rather than passion.
I am not alone in this experience. In one article published by Nature, it was revealed that 60% of people between the ages of 16 and 25 feel significant anxiety around the topic of climate change. Our generation grew up learning to be afraid, and these are the consequences.
And so, having grown up in fear of the consequences, I came to college determined to use my education to fight climate change. Environmental science was the obvious choice for my major. Combining it with environmental thought and practice, I aimed to use the University as a springboard for political and scientific action against continuing environmental damage. I set my sights on a career that would put me in front of those in power – as an environmental lawyer, journalist or lobbyist – making sure they could no longer ignore the issues that had so deeply ingrained my perception of the world around me. me.
However, as a freshman entering, I got nervous. I have always loved nature. One of the reasons I had been so affected by climate anxiety was because of my deep love for the natural world, and so I felt deep distress at the thought of its destruction. Although I was eager to explore and learn more about the great outdoors, I had no idea how I was going to cope with the increasing presence of climate change in my daily life.
I soon realized that an important piece of the puzzle that had eluded me as I tried to figure out how to live in a changing climate is that, as I mentioned, I’m not the only one feeling sick. climate anxiety. But I’m not the only one trying to fix it either. At the end of every environmental science course, there’s the dreaded climate change unit. What I did not expect from these weeks of crisis was to be content with what other environmentalists are doing to mitigate the impacts. To be absolutely clear, climate change is still a big, unprecedented, existential, and terrifying issue – however, to my surprise, I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.
By making friends with classmates and lab partners, joining clubs such as the Environmental Science Organization, and spending time getting to know my professors and advisors, I have been comforted by the fact that there are hundreds of people at the University alone who share my passion. for the Earth and my concern for its fate. There are projects underway right now aimed at addressing the threats facing our planet – ESO’s efforts to monitor light pollution at the University, research efforts at facilities such as the Blandy Experimental Farm and a plethora of graduate research projects.
Realizing that the burden of climate change doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders — or perhaps on the shoulders of me and Greta Thunberg — has freed up the mental space for me to rediscover why I fell in love with nature in the first place. location. As I sat in Geology, Atmosphere and Weather, Hydrology and so many other courses, I found myself enthralled by the beauty and grandeur of the natural world, forgetting for a moment the emotional burden I had so long associated with it. .
And so, we continue – conservationists, lawyers, researchers, community organizers and starry-eyed students. For the most part, we keep our eyes fixed on the future we are fighting for. But knowing that we are marching alongside an army of environmentalists like us allows us, even for a moment, to stop and enjoy the world we have dedicated our lives to saving. We may be heading for the most powerful bastions of our society — Congress, the White House, and corporate headquarters around the world — but we won’t stand alone before them.