By: JONI OSWALD
“It’s frustrating,” Sydney Knight exclaims with her head bowed to the floor as if searching for an answer in the dull carpet we sit on.“I don’t understand why people wouldn’t care for something as important as this.” The fluorescent light that illuminates the cinder block classroom reflects off of her short brown hair as she meekly shakes her head. A look of puzzlement crosses her face, contradicting the passion that widens her eyes when the topic switches to the environment.
We perceive villains in movies as powerful beings looking to take over or destroy the world. Some may come in the form of Thanos, Darth Vader, or Loki. However, society is currently in the presence of a modern day villain that takes an obscure form. It’s conquer is gradual and often overlooked. It is an entity unlike any other— it is known as climate change. Some may wince in annoyance at the sound of it. Others may recognize it as an entity in need of being countered. However, the more standard approach tends to be blank stares of indifference. This apathetic stance when it comes to improving the environment does not hold a minority population. In fact, while many Americans agree about the importance of maintaining a clean environment, only two out of ten people actually do anything to improve it according to the Pew Research Center. This statistic of unattended concerns shows itself in the everyday lives of citizens. Whether it’s the trash littering the highways of Independence or lesser-known threats, such as the usage of plastic water bottles and bags, this trend has the potential to become even more detrimental to society if a change isn’t made.
Seeing this impairment of not only the city we live in, but the globe as a whole, Knight decided to take the first step towards change. She began raising awareness within Truman High School by forming Earth First, a student-led club with a mere handful of members. While this club may be little in size, their goals are timeless and essential to the decaying Earth. “Clubs in high school don’t necessarily accomplish everything they may initially set out to do,” said Knight. “However, the idea of this club simply existing is necessary because it offers students an outlet to pursue certain passions that they have.” Things such as raising awareness towards the environment, providing outlets for student volunteer opportunities, and cultivating a passion for the Earth within one another are a few ways this club looks to instill better habits on a schoolwide level.
Until recently, the club had prominently remained to itself since it began in the spring of 2018. Discussions and earthly education were conducted within club meetings before members decided it was time to attempt instilling better habits within the school as a whole. Their solution? Designate five days to this matter during Earth Week. This week followed the global celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd. Each day the group targeted a specific category pertaining to the environment, such as reducing waste, political action, saving the bees, and promoting the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere. Presentations and small activities were conducted by this little club during lunch time.
These efforts all boiled down to a large concept in particular— involvement. In order to solve a problem, one must first recognize that there is a problem to be solved.. This is why Earth First made the choice to designate multiple days towards sharing facts and statistics about the environment before hosting a day targeting the importance of political activism. Members of Earth first sought to counter the stigma of generation Z’s lack of participation in political culture. Young voter attendance at the polls is in a state of decline and political demonstrations around American cities lack the youth presence of past decades. “Civic engagement is something that is not necessarily taught in every single high school classroom. In this case, it could possibly make a difference in one student’s life if they run into a person that tells them the importance of civil activism and engagement,” proclaims Knight. “The sight of seeing their peers being engaged in these sorts of things is a powerful tool of influence.” In the grand scheme of things, Earth First may seem like an insignificantly small push for high schoolers to delve in these matters, but if even one student gains momentum from Earth Week, then it accomplished the hardest task of all, changing a mind.
Despite these efforts, many students still carry out poor environmental habits with little thought to their jeopardizing ways. Simple alterations in one’s lifestyle can make a significant impact, such as switching from plastic water bottles to reusable ones, carpooling, picking up trash, and even shopping at thrift stores, however, few adopt these principals. Why is it that this trend exists in the face of horrific statistics outlining the collapse of our world?
In many cases, students often don’t even realize the extremity of climate change and the part they play it it. “I don’t really think about switching my lifestyle to better the environment. I guess since it doesn’t feel like it’s affecting me directly or I don’t see how it impacts my life. I don’t see a need to change,” said junior Hunter Donelson. “I know climate change could eventually catch up to me, but I just don’t think about it too often.” Donelson’s line of thinking mirrors many citizens within the state of Missouri. We were raised on the idea of driving cars through cities designed around freeways, eating conveniently packaged food to fit into the bustle of an American lifestyle, and shopping a retail stores with the latest and greatest style. All of these day-to-day actions are ingrained in our perception of normality that we fail to question their harmful effects.
Donelson is not the only person who takes action based on the effects climate change has on him personally, in fact, a majority of people across the globe relate to him in some degree. However, it is time- and has been time- to question the status quo of our lifestyles. While we may not necessarily see the gradual deterioration of our planet first hand, we see the the statistics, we see the wildfires in California, we see the floods, famine, droughts, and obscure weather that our actions have caused.
Wincing at Donelson’s argument when read allowed, Knight rose from her fixation of the individual carpet fibers and further caught my attention with a steely-eyed look. “There is such a thing as self-serving activism where one acts on what is directly affecting them,” she exclaims. “However, within the same token, if something is affecting others- or in the environment’s case, affecting everyone- then we need to do something about that as well.” Looking me in the eyes, her voice was passionate, yet slightly pleaing as she released the next words from her mouth— “helping others should be motivating in itself.”
Motivation is the utmost necessity to an individual wanting to pursue anything. Under extreme circumstances, one would think numbers pertaining to the increase of worldwide temperatures (which is approximately 2.5 to 10 degrees fahrenheit per decade) would be frightening enough to induce change. But, with a problem so grand at hand, will simple changes in lifestyle even be enough to reverse the path that humanity is currently heading down?
Hyland Atagi, a senior at Truman High School, admits that he recognizes the harmful effects our planet is facing, yet does little to counter it. “I try to do what I can when it comes to helping the environment, however, I wouldn’t call myself an activist. I don’t littler and I recycle sometimes, but that is about it.” His voice recedes. “It’s not that I can’t make a difference, it just feels like my one part isn’t enough to make much change in this world.”
It is true that climate change is a large issue and that much of the damage done to our planet is heading towards an irreversible state if radical changes don’t happen immediately However, it is also true that change is not impossible. “Changing the culture of society begins with how each individual acts on a personal level, their smaller impact does matter in the grand scheme of things,” says Knight. This idea of cultivating a culture dedicated to serving the environment’s needs is not an easy one. It will take a significant amount of communities, cities, states, and countries to counter the culture of waste of the moment.
All of this begins on the individual level. If enough individuals make the switch to more eco-friendly habits, much of society will grasp onto the same mindset. “Democracy doesn’t work on the mindset that of ‘my one vote won’t make a difference,’” pronounces Knight. “The Earth works in similar ways. If everybody had the mindset that simple things such as reusing a grocery store bag won’t have any impact, then we see no change at all.”
This mindset contributes to the declining attendance of young voters at the polls. However, America is in a state where the Earth needs these young and more progressive votes. In 2017, President Trump announced our nation’s departure from the Paris Agreement, an arrangement between the United Nations in which countries agreed to reduce greenhouse emissions, adaptation to carbon free standards of livings, and financial aid for counties in need of implementing an eco-friendly economy. Reasons for this withdraw, according to Trump, include loss of factory jobs and the pricey cost of supporting other countries in their efforts, stating it would “undermine the economy.” Currently, America is ranked as the second country (trailing China) in emission of gasses harmful to the atmosphere according to the European Commission and Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research. America, one of the biggest polluters on the planet, would then be one of the three counties absent from this agreement in the whole world if departure plans go through in 2020.
It is a common lesson for one to be taught in some way, shape, or form throughout their life— have an opinion and know how to back it up. This applies to nearly everything, especially politics. However, the question is no longer ‘does climate change exist?’ rather ‘how should climate change be dealt with?’ Opinions on how this problem can be solved are greatly influenced by the culture one lives in. The action of dismissing itself from the agreement is symbolic of American prioritization of capital over our Earth’s health. If this is the standard our government sets for its citizens, ultimitally, many will follow this heedless path our representatives pave. “There’s no jobs on a dying planet, it doesn’t matter what type of healthcare we have if the planet is dead,” affirms Knight. “The earth should be a priority.”
Knight is one of the few individuals standing firm in her beliefs of extreme activism. “The Paris Agreement isn’t perfect by any means, but the fact that people call it radical in a negative connotation is discouraging because it shows that a lot of people don’t understand that we need a radical change to reverse this path we’re putting the earth on,” she states. While passion towards this subject stirs in her mind, she is surrounded by high schoolers on a day-to-day basis that display no stance on this matter. “Could I get a climate change definition…I guess that tells you a lot if I don’t even know what it is,” says Donelson when asked his beliefs on it. This lack of knowledge towards this subject in not as uncommon as one would think. Apart from their devoted member, these are the types of students Earth First looks to reach.
“The younger generation of voters is the future,” says Knight. “It is a proven trend that as we age, we lose sentiment of the progressive ideals we hold in our youth. Going off this, now is the time to make these changes in our lifestyles and get involved.”
Earth First may seem to be only a small bud in the face of our impaired planet. However, a bud is symbolic of pure potential— potential that can only be reached by the actions of its caretakers. We, as human beings, are those caretakers to the earth. While the state we have put the environment in may seem too depleted to salvage, it is never too late to change our ways for the better. “We are blessed to be on such a beautiful earth in the first place. We have a moral duty to protect it and ultimately leave it better than we found it,”elaborates Knight. “I have faith that it will get better.” At this point in time, faith may not be enough to reverse the deterioration that we have caused. We need more than just faith—we need collective activism. This is no longer a mere concern, but a battle to get better, and it all begins with the youth.