"How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood. ... People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. ... For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you look away."
—Greta Thunberg to the U.N. General Assembly
Recently, a grocery clerk packing my bags gently complained that it was kind of a pain for him to open the string bags I use for produce. I appreciated his care in making sure that he wasn't putting ripe mangoes underneath a six-pack of La Croix, but I said I was trying to reduce my use of plastic bags, which increase our carbon/fossil fuel footprint.
He said, "Well, that's admirable, but it's fantasy to think we can affect climate change."
This kind of thinking is not only self-fulfilling; it's also a roadmap to despair, cynicism, and inaction. It's so much easier to deny the truth of climate change, evade responsibility, and in so doing, rob our children of their future, as Greta Thunberg so effectively articulated in her speech to the U.N. last month.
Make no mistake. We are beyond climate change—we are in a spiraling climate crisis. This is not hysteria, not specious theory, no leftist plot. The recent report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that we have only 11 more years before the chain reaction of global warming becomes irreversible.
We do not have to accept that we will need to spend an estimated $685 million here in SLO County to hold back rising seas. That extreme heat and drought will cause tens of millions to migrate, and we'll see food shortages, poisoned oceans, and climate plagues.
The problem is huge, but to change the trajectory toward certain disaster for the Earth, we cannot give in to fear, helplessness, depression, and apocalypse fatigue. The planet pleads with us to join Greta and the global and local armies of people mobilizing to take action.
Who are they? So many it's hard to count. If you go to even one local climate action meeting, you will have the opportunity to connect with neighbors who share your sense of urgency.
At the Rise for Climate town hall in San Luis Obispo on Sept. 25, for instance, I met Charles Varni of the SLO Surfrider Foundation; Carmen Bouquin of the Sunrise Movement; David Baldwin of the Plumber & Steamfitters Union; Eric Veium, SLO Climate Coalition Task Force chair; Chris Read, SLO city sustainability director; Rita Casaverde of the Climate Reality Project; and Paul Deis, retired emergency and disaster manager. All knowledgeable, all articulate, all responding to what Varni says is our cosmic call to action.
The Sunrise Movement is one of the groups sending out a clarion call. It's an inspiring, youth-led organization building an army to make climate change an urgent priority.
"We are ordinary young people," the movement's website states, "who are scared about what the climate crisis means for the people and places we love."
Take Bouquin, a student at Cuesta College. She recalls growing up surrounded by majestic beauty in New Mexico, but depression set in when she recognized the threat to our fragile ecosystem. Her climate anxiety led to her participation in the Measure G campaign to ban fracking in SLO County.
"Taking action gave me hope," Carmen said to me. "I went to my first Sunrise action last year in Sacramento, when we demanded that Gov. Brown halt fossil fuel projects."
Bouquin feels empowered by youth engagement, which brings energy, passion, and a platform for leadership development.
When you hear Bouquin talk about the intersection between social and climate justice, you know you're listening to a leader: "When transitioning to carbon neutrality, we need to make sure we are looking at solutions that help low-income, vulnerable communities," she writes via email. "Everyone needs access to affordable housing, health care, healthy food, transportation, and safe and clean jobs. All these issues are intertwined."
Emmet Arries is another young SLO climate justice warrior. "I will live with the impacts of the climate crisis my whole life," he wrote to me. "I see climate activist work as nothing short of preventing international instability due to people fighting over a dwindling resource pool. I will not be the generation who is complacent in our own destruction."
Then there's Erin Pearse, a Cal Poly math professor and advisor to the newly formed campus Sunrise Club. Waking to the reality of climate crisis led to depression and outrage. But he found agency in a simple outlet.
Inspired by the Extinction Rebellion, whose U.K. members glued themselves to the podium in Parliament, Pearse made signs and carried them around as a one-man protest.
"Instead of people responding like I was a crazy person, I got the thumbs-up, and I immediately felt cheered. That simple act contributed to our social and political will to make transformative change," he said.
Do you want to feel isolated and angry about climate change, or do you want to feel empowered and hopeful? Follow your curiosity, check out the groups taking local action, attend one meeting. For starters, go to: sunrisemovement.org, carbonfreeslo.org, and climaterealityproject.org.
As the Sunrise Movement states, "Together, we will change this country and this world, sure as the sun rises each morning."
Please: Let's heed the Earth's calling. Δ
Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.