Climate change: Perspectives from the next generation

High School Panel

At the State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference in Oakland last week, one of the standout moments during the opening plenary session was when three local high school students took the stage to tell the adults how they feel about climate change.  What they had to say took most by surprise, bringing the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation at the end.  What do you think these high school students have to say to you about climate change?  Turns out – a lot.

Here they are, in their own words.

PALOMA SIEGEL, Marin School of Environmental Leadership

Paloma Siegel

Paloma Siegel

My name is Paloma Siegel, and I am a sophomore at the Marin School of Environmental Leadership in San Rafael. I would thank everyone here for allowing me to speak today.

At my school, we aren’t babied; reality isn’t drowned in high fructose corn syrup and spoon fed to us, and the truth of climate change is not withheld. For example, we watch Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth, and read Bill McKinnon’s Earth within the first two years of our schooling. We are taught the material that shapes our world’s perspectives and allows us to enter our ever-changing earth.

I am here to speak my mind and to address you, but I’d rather not reiterate what we all know so well. I don’t well to preach to you of the million issues on our planet, or how you could individually reduce your carbon footprint. I want to speak to the concepts and to the fundamental changes that need to occur in order for us to survive.

[pullquote]”The debt of yesterday’s generations has been dropped on the shoulders of today’s youth, and there is a mile-high expectation of saving the world on top of that. Now I ask, how can we be told to pick up after ourselves when all that surrounds us are the neglected messes that we didn’t make?”[/pullquote]

The debt of yesterday’s generations has been dropped on the shoulders of today’s youth, and there is a mile-high expectation of saving the world on top of that. Now I ask, how can we be told to pick up after ourselves when all that surrounds us are the neglected messes that we didn’t make?

I say, it is unreasonable to hand us a load too heavy to carry on our own, and then denigrate us as we struggle under its weight. This debt cannot be passed on to us with the belief that those who made it played no role in fixing it. We each play a role in fixing our messes. The very state of being alive on this earth mandates that.

The minds that have blame for our global crisis is one that inflates our superiority and undermines our humility and respect for our planet. We view earth as a resource solely for our consumption and we have lost the understanding of how we fit into the bigger picture.

I am aware and angry at this current state of affairs, but in my anger, I am not blind. I see this audience, a wonderful crowd of people who do care, throwing your lives and careers into solving issues that haunt our reality, and I thank you, as people who are committed to working in tandem to help our planet.

The only way for us to shift our ways to cooperate with each other and to work not against nature, or even for it, but with it.

Thank you.

REGINALD QUARTEY, Oakland High School Environmental Science Academy

Reginald QuarteyClimate change. It’s a legacy left to us after many years of reckless pollution. A large part of me gets mad whenever I hear these words, because in many cases, it’s just treated as some topic that only treehuggers care about, but they aren’t issues that can be willed away if we just shut our eyes hard enough.

I find it to be so much more than that. Within those words are a generation passing the baton to us, kids confused about a world that’s going haywire when we did nothing wrong, and many like me are left to figure out how everyone else sees the issue.

Personally, the whole spectacle scares me. Even simple things like turning on the news take on a whole new meaning when you’re bombarded with stories about how there’s some sort of natural disaster going on. California, for example, is being plagued by wildfire while in the middle of one of the worst droughts it has seen in a very long time. And every day I find myself increasingly dumbfounded when I browse media and I see indifference, willful ignorance, or outright denial that this is something we should be worried about.

[pullquote]” … simple things like turning on the news take on a whole new meaning … every day I find myself increasingly dumbfounded when I browse media and I see indifference, willful ignorance, or outright denial that this is something we should be worried about.”[/pullquote]

To add insult to injury, we have many of the most powerful people in the country going to extreme lengths to show that the issue is just in our heads, and those are just the ones that don’t want to face the undeniable possibility that they are the byproduct of an age that has bled the world dry. Even worse than them are the people who are put into power that know what’s going on is wrong and do nothing because they profit from it.

Living in the Bay Area makes this prospect take on a whole new meaning. The weather we’re blessed with only makes us more aware of how bad things can get. That’s my main issue, and every angle I try to look at this, everything looks so bleak, and I have to ask, why should it?

When I was growing up, I had it in my head that anything was possible. I could be whatever I wanted to be because apparently, we were living in some golden age where everyone’s dreams came true. That fantasy was killed before I even knew what I wanted to be in life. What it’s been replaced by is messages of how it’s now our job to save the earth, and sometimes I feel like that burden has been left for our generation to lift alone.

That’s why I want to thank all of you in this room for being here. It’s proof that you’re on our side, that you think that making a planet a better place is worth it to be here, things like this conference let me know that there’s still hope and that we’re actively working to make things better, and that’s something, at least.

Thank you.

DIANA GOMEZ, Woodland High School and US David Aggie Mentors

Diana GomezMy name is Diana Gomez. I’m 17 years old, and I’m a senior attending Woodland High School. I am also part of the UC Davis Aggie Mentor program.

I wrote a post that said, the most important thing about global warming is this: whether humans are responsible for the bulk of climate change is up to the scientists, but it’s all of our responsibility to leave this planet in a better shape than we found it for future generations. This feeling is completely true and inspiring me to do my part to make a difference in my environment.

I have recently embarked on a journey to learn more about the world I live in. While on this adventure, I have become more proactive towards protecting our ecosystems. Through a program at UC Davis called Aggie Mentors, which helps make connections with environmental programs, it has come to my attention that there are many environmental problems occurring because of climate change, and a lot of people are not aware of them.

[pullquote]” … “People need to become better informed, so that we as a society can deal with the consequences of climate change. It is critical that we raise awareness of not only those in my generation, but for everyone.”[/pullquote]

These problems include sea levels rising. I am very concerned about sea level rising because I live close to the Sacramento Delta, and the impacts of climate change will affect me a lot. One of my major concerns is the stability of the manmade levees. Over a hundred years ago, men built levees to help preserve the estuary’s ecosystem; however, they are now start to fail and not withstand water rising. The odds of flooding are increasing, making this issue a major threat to the estuary. The levees have weakened over time and must be reinforced in order to protect homes from flooding. The estuary is also a vital part of our economy, … agriculture, and prominent habitat for many native species. If we do not get involved, the results will be catastrophic.

Certain types of crops will become more expensive, as growing foods in this area will become uneconomical. Consequently, we will have less of these foods available to us, and thus we’ll have to pay more for crops. Access to fresh produce will be threatened for many low income families, which rely on the low cost prices of produce to feed their families.

However, there is something you can help to do to preserve the estuary’s ecosystem. But people need to become better informed, so that we as a society can deal with the consequences of climate change. It is critical that we raise awareness of not only those in my generation, but for everyone. This is the only way we can fight climate change, and we need everyone to get involved.

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