This article, the winner of the 2017 Nation Student Writing Contest, was written prior to Donald Trump’s election as President. It addressed the question, “What is the most important issue of your generation?” and laid out a game-plan for young people to take on the issue. The author will soon publish an update looking at how President Trump and his agenda, specifically pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Treaty, have changed her arguments (if at all).
As a budding Arctic researcher, there have been many times when I’ve struggled to breathe.
When I was in Clyde River, Nunavut, this March, the air was a breezy -68 degrees Fahrenheit, so cold my throat felt like it was closing up every time I stepped outside.
When I was in Greenland three summers ago, I found myself breathless in awe of a sun that never set. Seeing amber glow for miles and miles along a treeless tundra—I have never seen anything so ethereal.
That summer, I also sat along mountain ridges, staring out onto the Greenlandic ice sheet. I would bear witness to skyscrapers tearing off the sides of the glacier, cracking like thunder, then crashing below in a blue mist.
Those images keep me up at night. I am a young person with seemingly no power to enact climate change policies, but I also have everything to lose from inaction.
What does it feel like to pursue a career studying climate change?
I feel heaviness in my chest. I can rattle off statistics more dire than anyone should know—100 million climate-related deaths by 2030, 200 million people displaced due to climate change by 2050, the tipping points of ocean acidification and Arctic permafrost thaw that could send us teetering over the edge of a livable planet—waking up some mornings pinned to my bed by the weight of it all.
And yet, this knowledge also empowers me. I know that, in order for the world to meet the Paris Agreement goals (that in and of themselves will still not be enough), no new fossil fuels can be drilled. I see the staggering statistics for renewable energy, with the price of solar reaching record lows. We do not need to find the solutions—they are here.
But, this evidence is worthless unless we take action in response to it. I am angered by our so-called “leaders” who aren’t doing what is necessary for my generation, and for the generations to come after us. The fossil fuel industry is continuing on its decades-long campaign to misinform the public on climate change. In my capacity as a youth delegate at the United Nations climate change negotiations, I have seen firsthand the ways in which young people’s future is sold to the highest bidder.