Last night I dreamed about a blue sky turning orange. Flames and smoke moved quickly overhead until everything was dark. I live far from the fires that are raging on the west coast. But I’m spending a lot of time these days thinking of my friends who are there, breathing in the smoke, sharing their evacuation stories in real time, and waking up to an unrecognizable sky.
As an organization deeply concerned with the health of forests, environmental justice, and climate change, it is important for us to acknowledge the fires on the West coast, the worsening rates of fires in the Brazilian Amazon, and the many other climate change-related disasters happening around the world. While our field work is in Peru and Ecuador, RP envisions healthy and sustainable forests around the world and a safe and liveable climate.
The “Future” they warned us about is already here
For young people like me, the future does not feel guaranteed. We’ve learned that from COVID-19, sure, but even life after the pandemic can be a scary thought. Sometimes we think about what the world could look like when we turn thirty, forty, or fifty, and what we see is something like what the West Coast looks like now. Or it looks like the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, or the flooding in Karachi, Pakistan.
As tens of thousands of people evacuate their homes and millions of acres burn across Oregon, California, and Washington, I think it is important to move beyond defending the existence of climate change or explaining the links between climate change and intensifying “natural” disasters. Our energy would be better spent on action, on building coalitions and implementing solutions.
The orange, smoky skies on the west coast show that there’s clearly no more time for convincing people that climate change is real or serious, to accept slow change or inaction from those in power, or to not hold them accountable when they put profit over our future on this planet.
And it’s easy to feel anxious, afraid, angry, hopeless.
Even though there is so much we can’t save, the other side of that is there is so much that we still can save. So, who are we to give up? What gives us the right to give up on the planet and each other?Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
It’s okay and important to feel these things and to grieve for what we are losing, have lost. And some people have lost so much more than others.
But working with RP has taught me that hopelessness often paves the way for inaction.
In my eyes, giving up on the planet is simply not an option. I see the climate crisis as a choice between a future or no future. We don’t have the time to keep trying to convince the people in power that they should choose planet over profit. What we need to do is change who is making that decision. Because the future is already happening and we need things to change now. And I want us to be able to imagine our 50th birthdays without feeling afraid.
I am privileged not to live near these fires. I have emotional energy and resources that others don’t have, even if I am scared. So I let myself feel my anxieties, then I put them aside. Instead of giving up, I eventually am able to take a breath, clear my head, call my representatives, join an organization, call a friend, take an action. Although I’m just one person, it is my way of choosing to have a future over none at all.
The effects of climate change are being felt all over the world, from the western U.S. to the Amazon, the Pantanal wetlands, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Arctic, Indonesia, Australia… more and more people are learning how critical this moment is. And this feels like a decisive moment, where we have no choice but to demand and enact healing, restructuring, and accountability.
The answer to, ‘if not hope, then what?’ It’s truth, courage and solutions. That’s what’s going to get us there.”Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
I remember hearing one of my climate-policy and environmental role-models, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, say that she doesn’t like talking about hope. To her, hope is passive and should be considered just a first step. We often try to dig ourselves out of anxiety and fear, land on hope, and don’t go any further. Hope shouldn’t be the end goal, it should be a step towards solutions and real change.
We need hope to believe we can reach that hazy idea of a “better future,” but what we need even more is action.
We need to keep growing solidarity between peoples, places, and struggles. We need to accept that climate change is universal while acknowledging the unequal distribution of loss and consequence which hits poorer, marginalized places and communities sooner and harder. We need to weave environmental justice into every sector and facet of our lives. And if we are not, in this moment, dealing directly with disaster or displacement, we must choose to take action instead of sitting in our hopelessness.
Sometimes action comes from hope, but other times hope can come from taking action. So if you’re out of hope that the world will reorder itself to be what you want it to be, that’s okay, that’s good. We need you, too.
If you’re a young person looking to turn your climate anxiety into action and real impact…