Commentary

Cher Gilmore | Youth and the Future of Our Environment

September was full of environmental activities largely led by youth.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who inaugurated the school strike for climate movement — now called Fridays for Future — crossed the ocean by boat to attend the Youth Climate Summit and the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference in New York. 

Between Sept. 20 and 27, Fridays for Future and other allied youth groups held the largest climate marches in history — involving upwards of 4 million people and taking place across 4,500 locations in 150 countries.

Locally, Santa Clarita held its annual River Rally and Environmental Expo. 

With 1,435 volunteers, a good portion of them young people, this year’s rally was the largest in the past five years. Way to go, Santa Clarita!

Further, the Santa Clarita Library co-sponsored with Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Education two screenings of the film “The Human Element,” a new documentary featuring environmental photographer James Balog, who captures the lives of everyday Americans on the front lines of climate change. 

When one Advanced Placement high school science teacher learned about the screenings from a former student, he urged his students to attend. They responded in large numbers, and wrote excellent reports about what they’d been moved by in the film. Following are some excerpts.

Chris DeLong was impressed by facts. 

He writes, “A frightening fact is that 200,000 premature deaths are caused by air pollution. … Wildfires cost billions of dollars and kill dozens per year, carbon is at an all-time high, hurricanes cost $286 billion to repair damages.”

McKayla Thomas summarized the thrust of the film: “Throughout history, people have considered earth, air, fire and water to be the primary elements of nature; however, our growing impact on the world has led us to realize that humanity is its own elemental force of nature. We change the elements and the elements change us. Now, humanity’s destructive influence on the world is leading us to self-destruction.”

“The documentary stated how climate is going to get worse over the years. They believe that we’re going to have more tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis over time,” writes Giselle Macias. She then describes the effects of water on Virginia’s Tangier Island, “which is sinking due to the flooding, which has gotten worse over the years. They predicted that 20-30 years from now the island will not exist due to extreme flooding.”

Joshua Botros was moved by climate change’s effects on the air, “affecting the lives of thousands of people living with asthma and other respiratory diseases. [Balog] presented a family of four who all suffer with asthma, and are forced to take many medications in order to survive daily. The family, a mother and her children, was forced to move the children to another school that specializes in asthma-affected children.”

“In the Earth portion, I was surprised and partially relieved to find that the market for coal in the last few decades has gone down — the downside for this being that society is trading coal for gas and oil, options that hardly seem more progressive,” laments Sofia Figueroa. 

McKayla Thomas reported on the effects of fire: “More than 38 million people are living in fire-prone areas in California. The fire season is becoming year-round and mega-fires have increased 1,000% since the 1970s. Fire used to be a natural progression of nature, but our actions have made it a dangerous and unnatural force.”  

Case in point: the Saddleridge Fire.

Sophia Figueroa summed up the feelings of many students who saw the film: “I and the rest of my peers are a part of the generation that has only known our planet in crisis. I grew up breathing in Los Angeles smog with the images of wildfires, melting glaciers, and plastic floating in the oceans tattooed in my mind. I am also a part of the generation desperate to stop this, participating in what many are calling ‘our generation’s civil rights movement.’” 

Kailee Ortega adds, “At the end of the movie, the narrator said that if one element is unbalanced, then the other elements will follow, and that humans are the only ones with the power to balance things. That is a call to action for all of us to step up and create change in our governments so that something is being done for our environment.” 

Many thanks to Rep. Katie Hill for co-sponsoring the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, H.R. 763, which would reduce carbon emissions 40% in 12 years, improve people’s health and stimulate the economy. Congress should pass this legislation immediately, as a first step toward guaranteeing that these young people have a future they can look forward to on a livable planet.

Cher Gilmore is a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Education and lives in Newhall.

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