I have always had a strong passion for the Earth. I was raised in a family that taught me the value of caring for and preserving the environment. It was only in 7th grade however that I was first made aware of anthropogenic climate change, when I read a book in class on the drastic effects of global warming. The book discussed the droughts, the floods, the famine, the fires that happen all over the world as a result of climate change. I learned about the sea levels rising and the rising rate at which the world’s animals and plants are becoming extinct. I continued reading and waited for the happy ending that would say that the problem isn’t as bad as it sounds, and that climate change wouldn’t affect me. I never found that ending.
I was so confused and frustrated. Why is this problem not being solved? Why, if this is such a dire issue, and if there is such overwhelming scientific consensus, is there not more being done? I would learn later that the issue of climate change has been politicized, that carbon polluters spend billions of dollars perpetuating misconceptions about global warming. These companies place profit ahead of the well-being of life on Earth.
I decided then that I could not sit idly by and watch the repercussions of climate change take their toll. I would not be a bystander in the fight for my generation’s future. Since that time, I’ve been actively involved in making my community a green and healthy place to live, through community activism and collaboration with statewide and national organizations. But the Green LYFE Network is by far the organization that I’ve put the most into and gotten the most out of. It was May of 2014, and my friend Rebecca Laurent and I were having a long conversation about how productive a year we’d had with our high school environmental club – we had succeeded in educating our peers through educational campaigns, giving back to our community with countless volunteer hours, and creating partnerships and events that engaged our community in a conversation about the environment. Then it struck us: what if we could connect high school students across Illinois to engage in similar action? Our efforts could be strengthened exponentially – through statewide campaigns, we could make a real difference and truly make our voices heard. The Green LYFE Network was born. We didn’t realize at that moment what an undertaking this would be.
Connecting youth across the state is a simple idea, but it’s not easily executed. Rebecca and I have spent (and continue to spend) hours on end designing campaigns and the structure of our organization, going through the legal process of becoming a nonprofit, reaching out to educators and students, planning conferences and summits, writing and delivering speeches to spread the word, attending meetings where we promote and converse, and much more. Because our group is completely student-led (Rebecca and I work with other students; we assembled a youth council of Illinois students from various high schools), the most difficult part throughout the process has been trying to find a balance between leading this non-profit (which often feels like a full time job) and being a full time student and volunteer for other groups as well.
With a little luck and a lot of determination though, I’ve been able to overcome all the challenges that come with this huge responsibility, and the Green LYFE Network has successfully engaged in environmental action. The network has brought students together from across Illinois, and our members have petitioned and lobbied for various environmental legislation. We’re just getting started though. Green LYFE has big plans to collaborate on statewide campaigns and promote sustainable living across the country. Our first goal is to send a clear message to our local legislators. We need our elected leaders and private sector companies like to STEP UP and protect both PEOPLE and the PLANET from FURTHER HARM. The facts must be heard over the lies that are spread by those whose priority is their own wealth rather than the well-being of our planet.
This is something that Millenials understand, and we are not content to sit idly by as our future on this planet is taken away from us. We are the first generation to see the effects of climate disruption and the last generation that can take action to solve it.
And we CAN solve it. We are at a time right now where solar panel efficiency is increasing and prices are dropping, and we’re seeing this trend in a variety of renewable energy sources. We have the solutions at hand. Now it’s just a matter of convincing our leaders to strive for scientific literacy.
There have been some great achievements recently. We saw 400,000 people march for climate justice in New York City last September, we saw President Obama introduce the landmark Clean Power Plan, we saw Pope Francis speak to congress and urge religious and non-religious people alike to consider the moral argument for taking action on global warming. And of course, there were the climate talks in Paris where a relatively comprehensive agreement was reached. We have come a long way. But there is still work to be done.
And so, my friends and I are going to use the moral authority that we have on this issue, and demand that change be made. We’ll be out on the streets petitioning, we’ll be in the halls of the state capital lobbying, we’ll be in classrooms giving presentations, we are going to work – like – hell until our voices are heard.
Climate change is the most serious challenge humanity has faced. But it’s also our biggest opportunity. And I am convinced that when we band together, we can seize that opportunity and make the world a better place.