Last September, I emailed President Obama. His response helped me to focus on what matters. He wrote,
“Progress doesn’t come easily, and it hasn’t always followed a straight line. Keeping our world’s air, water, and land clean and safe takes work from all of us, and voices like yours are sparking the conversations that will help us get to where we need to be. I will continue pushing to protect the environment as long as I am President and beyond, and I encourage you to stay engaged as well.”
But I worry that adults will never agree on climate change. The issue has become too political. The words “climate change” have even been scrubbed from government websites! Our current President refers to climate change as “a hoax.” Most people have no interest in discussing it. Try talking about C02 levels or climate science and see how far you get. The reality is that climate change has become a matter of opinion, rather than a matter of scientific fact. It has made the opinion of the ordinary person with no scientific background equal to the findings of eminent scientists who have devoted their lives and education to the study of the problem.
Only 27 percent of Americans surveyed in a 2016 Pew study agreed with the statement that, “almost all” climate scientists believe climate change is real and primarily caused by humans. Contrast this to multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies finding that 97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is real and that humans are the main contributor. In an age of alternative facts and a distrust of science, how do we talk about climate change and the need for action without turning people off?
Stanford Professor Rob Jackson thinks we should stop arguing over climate change and start talking about the shared benefits of addressing problems, like health, green energy jobs, and safety. My experience tells me that he is right.
Six years ago, just before I turned 10, I started a non-profit called Kids Eco Club to inspire kids to care for the planet, its wildlife and each other. It starts and supports environmental clubs in K-12 schools. Over 100,000 kids now participate annually in Kids Eco Club activities, learning the skills necessary to lead, and to understand the issues facing our world, including climate change. Kids Eco Club is successful because we focus on shared values rather than C02 levels. Take a class snorkeling, and everyone becomes interested in protecting coral reefs. Bring local wildlife into the classroom, and kids will fight for green energy and clean water to protect their habitat. Passion drives us.
My generation does not have the luxury of addressing human-caused climate change as callously or as passively as the generations before us ― because we are running out of time. Agriculture, deforestation, and dependence on fossil fuels release greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere, trapping heat, making the Earth warmer. The hottest year on record? Last year, 2016. A warmer Earth creates major impacts everywhere: on ecosystems, oceans, weather. Sea levels are rising because the polar ice caps are melting, and the oceans are warming, which causes them to expand. Severe weather events are created from warmer oceans – warmer water, more evaporation, clouds, and rain―causing greater storm damage, more flooding, and, ironically, larger wildfires and more severe droughts since weather patterns are also changing.
Imagine three out of every four animal species you know disappearing off the face of the Earth. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, we are currently experiencing the worst species die-off since dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. Species are vanishing at a rate roughly 100 times higher than normal. While things like asteroids and volcanoes caused past extinctions, humans almost entirely cause the current crisis. Global warming caused by climate change, habitat loss from development and agriculture, pesticide use, poaching, unsustainable fishing practices, pollution and disease spread by the introduction of exotic species, are driving the crisis beyond the tipping point. Can you picture a world without butterflies, penguins, elephants, rhinos, sea turtles, honeybees, orangutans, salamanders, or sharks?
The oceans provide 50% of the earth’s oxygen and 97% of its livable habitat. The health of our oceans is vital to our survival and the survival of the over one million types of plants and animals living there. Climate change and fossil fuel reliance raise ocean temperatures, causing extreme weather, coastal flooding, and ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is beginning to cause the die-off of calcium-rich species at the base of the ocean’s food chain, like coral, shellfish, and plankton. This die-off would trigger a spiral of decline in all sea life – from fish to seabirds to whales – and negatively impact hundreds of millions of people who rely on the oceans for food. Other human threats include overfishing, pollution, oil drilling and development. We need to act now to create change in our own communities by protecting ocean habitats, promoting conservation, and creating sustainable solutions to nurse our oceans back to health.
In a world with over 7 billion people, we cannot continue to divide ourselves into categories like believers and climate change deniers, or Republicans and Democrats. The best chance we have of ensuring a world with clean water and clean air is to engage all of us. If this takes changing the conversation from “climate change,” to “shared benefits,” then change the conversation. Together all things are possible.