If you have logged onto any form of social media in the past few months, you’ve seen the posts and read the articles: “The Amazon rainforest is on fire. Here’s what that means for the environment”; “Record-shattering heat wave scorches Europe: ‘It’s scary. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.’”; “Climate change: 12 years to save the planet? Make that 18 months.” And, if you are in any way like me, just reading these headlines sends you into a spiral of existential dread. I’ve been sharing said thoughts with friends and slowly realizing that we all have pretty similar opinions about the state of our planet (read: overwhelming panic) and the politics needed to fix it. Yet, at least in the United States, it often ends there. This begs the question: Why is there no large-scale, grassroots-level environmental activism here in the United States?
I spent two and a half months in France this past summer, living through the two record-breaking heat waves that plagued Europe. Experiencing first-hand how much the high temperatures affected these countries, I was directly exposed to the results of our globe’s rising temperatures. Now, this isn’t necessarily the only impact of climate change that has hit home for me. As I am from Miami, the threat of rising sea levels is a pervasive point of discussion when talking about the future with family and friends.
Although equally worrisome, these two consequences of climate change have reverberated in radically different ways within their respective societies. In Miami, civil engineers are working to prevent as much damage as they can. With residents following in tow, local governments in Florida are recommending the usual: carpooling, the 3 R’s and planting trees. Meanwhile, in Europe, the reality of climate change has finally given way to something much more powerful: widespread, consistent activism.
Started by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future, also known as the School Strikes for Climate, have been taking place since August 2018. I saw the dedication to this movement while attending a French protest in May. I spoke with high schoolers who have been striking on Fridays for months straight and getting their parents to join them. Further, the environmental political party had the largest share of votes from younger generations in the recent European Union elections. Although hundreds of cities in the United States participated in the two global protests, held in March and May, our activism does not yet compare in terms of size and consistency to those in Europe. To bring it close to home, there have been no climate-focused protests or large-scale participation in Fridays for Future in Winston-Salem, a city filled with young people. On the flip side, there have been multiple protests in Afghanistan, Togo and Montenegro.
That being said, I am becoming more hopeful. There are more than 100 strikes planned in the United States for each coming month, compared to the 42 that were registered this past April. Even before these strikes began, the movement to divest from fossil fuels has taken hold on many college campuses. We, as young Americans, are in a position to take the seeds that Thunberg has planted across the world and finally begin demanding change at the same level as our international counterparts.
In some ways, I can understand why we have not been a leading force in this movement. Our rights and safety are being threatened on many levels right now, from the lack of gun control to the passage of extreme anti-abortion laws. In other words, we are currently spread thin in an attempt to address the injustices in this country. Even so, I implore you to consider the lack of regulations on fossil fuels, the lack of a Green New Deal and the lack of a climate-forward conscience within the federal government as a profound and unacceptable form of injustice. With a president who is planning on pulling out of the Paris Accord and who skipped the G7 session about climate change in just this past week, we need this movement to take hold in the United States now more than ever.
The least you can do is vote. Vote for a 2020 presidential candidate who will fight for our future, as the present threat of climate change is becoming more and more unchangeable. However, I beg you to take your feelings of dread and frustration and channel them into this movement. There can never be enough pressure for positive change, so educate yourself and start to demand progress before it’s too late.