It can be hard for youth to deal with the overwhelming effects of climate change. But, by taking action, we can erode the hold that oil, fracking, and coal has on people and the environment.
“The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just hit 400 parts per million,” I told Alex, my 23-year-old son, as we were catching up on news.
“So that’s it, huh?” he asked.
I couldn’t think what to say. Alex had just returned from college, a new graduate, ready to start his life as an adult. Like many members of his age group, Alex knows that 350 parts per million is the threshold for safe levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Pass that level and, climate scientists tell us, things get dicey: soils dry out, damaging food production. There is more frequent and more intense flooding, coastlines get inundated, species go extinct. Farming, which relies on predictable weather patterns, is disrupted, and dry land farming areas turn to desert. Forests die from new infestations and drought, and become more prone to monster fires.
Young people like Alex are coming of age in a world that’s changing much faster than was predicted just a few years ago. Already, scenes of wildfires, floods, drought, and storms border on apocalyptic. And so far, temperatures have risen less than one degree centigrade.
So what does a young person do when confronted with a global climate crisis? What does anyone do?
Based on a roundtable discussion with young leaders and informal conversations with others of all ages, I’ve come to believe that these three steps are essential:
First, let this reality sink in. This is not the future we thought we would have. Young people, especially, have the right to be disappointed, angry, and fearful. It will take courage to face this new normal, especially when so many others remain disconnected from what’s happening. By being mindful of your own emotions, you can experience fear or grief without being overwhelmed by those feelings. And by remaining alert to the way the climate crisis may show up in your life, you can be better prepared and more resilient.
There’s controversy among some environmental leaders about whether to downplay the dangers for fear of frightening people or fostering nihilism. But if we are counting on the unique human genius for creative solutions, we need to be honest about the task at hand, and the consequences of inaction.