Four Months after the Climate Strike: Here Are Actions You Can Take
Tigerlily Theo Hopson
January 25th, 2020
On September 20th, 2019 over 60,000 students and adults walked out of work and school screaming for change as they marched from the crowded quarters of Foley Square to Battery Park in New York City. Small children clutched the hands of their parents as they stared up into a sea of green and blue hand-painted signs. Teens, who had walked out of class with permission from the Mayor and the DOE, flooded into the streets, shouting, “Hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go!” Adults of all ages marched for their children and grandchildren. It seemed then, with adrenaline pumping through New York’s veins, that this was another big step towards a climate revolution.
Now, almost four months later, many of these same protesters feel unsure how to proceed. They are faced once again with the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that our changing planet brings. Over the past month, I spoke with 15 students from around New York City, many of whom had walked out on the 20th, on how they felt about climate change. All of the students felt climate change will have a big impact on their future. Ten out of the 15 feel hopeless about climate change, three feel somewhere between hopeful and hopeless, and two feel hopeful.
Marc Sole, an 11th grade science teacher at East Side Community High School, still has hope for our ever-changing planet. He incorporates the climate crisis and the importance of sustainability into his curriculum. He thinks climate change can be reversed, but that “it is getting harder each and every day,” especially as more harmful policies are put in place. Despite this, he maintains his hope because so many more people have become aware of and moved by the detriments of the changing climate since he started teaching.
When the students mentioned above were asked if they would be willing to cut down on their carbon emissions, everyone said they would consider doing so. However most either said they had no clue on how to cut down on emissions, or that the actions they had taken so far, like walking more or using less plastic, seemed like not enough. Hearing from these students demonstrated that many, especially young people, acknowledge that climate change is a problem, are willing to take action, but are not sure how.
Jade Lozada, a senior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, was instrumental in organizing the Climate Strike in New York City. She first got involved on a late July afternoon this past summer. She was leaving a long day at a summer journalism program with NBC News when she noticed a post on Instagram from a teen activism organization called Fridays for Future, announcing an open planning meeting that very night. She got there late, but was immediately thrust into the action, and because of past experience she was asked to be a representative for a core committee. Organizing the march was hands on, taxing work, but at the end of the day she and her teammates were successful in organizing a 60,000 person strike. Their work was recognized by Greta Thurnberg, who stood next to Lozada on stage at the end of the rally.
This is an important topic for Lozada because the consequences of climate change “target lower income communities, and those lower income communities are almost all black and brown.” She added that, “there is a racial component” to the injustices of climate change. To make matters worse, our government gives these communities fewer opportunities to fight the changing climate. “If you go to the Bronx I am sure there are lots of kids who have asthma because of the diesel fumes being pumped out into their neighborhoods from passing trucks, but their parents drive those trucks,” Lozada says on the vicious cycle of governments in trapping low income communities with fossil fuels.
A New York City program called 350 NYC has partnered with CleanChoice Energy (https://cleanchoiceenergy.com/partner/350NYC) in order to provide a program where New Yorkers can power their households solely with solar and wind energy. If it is possible to completely switch over to clean, renewable energy, why isn’t everyone doing so? According to one New Yorker it isn’t as easy as it sounds. “Anyone who has energy assistance has to stick with fossil fuels,” she said, after she tried to switch to clean energy and was rejected because she took benefits for her energy bills. While it is important for New Yorkers to look into trying to switch over to clean energy if possible, many low income citizens do not have this option.
Lozada feels that the climate movement is no longer focused on personal environmentalism, but that “it’s about going after the people who are doing nothing about it: governments and fossil fuel companies that are responsible for the vast majority of pollution in the first place.” She wants to be part of reshaping the climate movement and holding our leaders accountable. It is important to do the small things like not buying plastic water bottles or bringing reusable bags to the supermarket, but the biggest thing a person can do is to use one’s voice to call out the people “at the top.”
One of the main ways someone can make a difference is by writing, calling, or emailing an elected representative. Lozada recently found that the things you say when you call a representative’s office are delivered directly to them. “And I did not know that, but it is true,” she said. Imagine if all students from even five schools wrote to their district representative about climate change, that would mean approximately 2,000 messages would end up at that representative’s desk.
Another action teens can take is to have conversations with people whom they do not agree with. “For something this urgent we should be encouraging ourselves to call up that relative in Pennsylvania or Ohio or whatever and say ‘look this is a real problem and this is how it’s going to affect you…’” Lozada argues. To overcome climate change and the divide in this country, it is essential to go across the aisle and meet those who may have different views in the middle. People are often so convinced that their opinion is the only “right” opinion, that they shun and look down upon those with different opinions instead of talking and trying to work out solutions.
On April 22nd, Earth Day, there will be another climate strike. Like on the 20th, teens all over New York City will again leave school demanding justice. It is important for constituents to keep following up until there is change. Fridays for Future is having open planning meetings at 6:00pm on Wednesdays at the Society for Ethical Culture (2 West 64th Street) for anyone who is interested in helping organize the strike.
So what can an individual do about climate change? To start, it is important to do all the things recommended over and over again: recycle, reuse water bottles and bags, reduce plastic and waste, walk more instead of taking a car, turn off lights when they are not in use, shut off the water when brushing teeth, and look into switching over to renewable energy. But, it is also important to take it beyond personal environmentalism and write or call representatives, talk to conservative relatives about climate concerns, and continue to take action and speak out about the issue. After all, the biggest weapon we have is our voice.