Megan Brakman

Megan Brakman staring off into the distance

The Earth is heating up and so is the conflict surrounding the topic of climate change. People all across the world are beginning to take up the fight to stop the progression of global warming with renewed fervor.

In recent months, we have seen 17-year-old activist Greta Thunberg rise into the public eye with her Fridays For Future protests, now emulated by students across the globe, and passionate speeches on the dire nature of the climate change threat. She speaks often of the fact that much of the damage we are doing to our Earth now is irreversible. That her generation, our generation, will be left with a nearly uninhabitable world and will be powerless to rewrite the history in which the people who raised and led us ultimately doomed us.

Local youth activist Helayna Clark, a sophomore at the Oakwood school here in Greenville and founder of the North Carolina Chapter of the Bye Bye Plastic Bags organization, also expressed her feelings that the climate change issue is indeed an urgent one. She said that although much scientific research has been done to measure the effects of climate change on the Earth, there is still so much that could grow so much worse.

“When people say we only have 10 years to turn this around, 10 years is the worst possible case scenario because even if we are starting to act within those ten years, the situation could still worsen,” Clark said. “And when we say ten years, we need to start making changes now so that when ten years pass, we can see the results.”

Youth activists have been central to this current movement of environmental activism likely because climate change will most negatively affect humanity years down the road, when today’s youth will be left to live with the consequences of today’s decisions.

Just after Thunberg’s famous speech at the UN Climate Action Summit in late September of last year, 17-year-old Marco Volpitta told CNN, “We have not just a moral duty to strike, but we have a survivalist imperative to do it.” Young people are taking action because it is their futures being threatened.

Clark said that although her experience may not be the same as that of every youth activist, she feels as though her voice is being heard.

“I have found that as a young person everyone really does want to listen to you if you speak up. And that platform we have as youth activists is really unique because people don’t always expect youth to have a say and have an opinion so when we do, it’s something that’s really special,” Clark said.

While young people seem to be taking the lead in raising awareness of the dangers of climate change, they are not the only ones making their strong feelings on the climate change crisis known. Professional actress Jane Fonda and a host of other celebrities have been arrested during “Fire Drill Friday” protests organized by Fonda.

The first line of the Fire Drill Fridays website’s about page reads, “As Greta Thunberg said, ‘Our House Is On Fire’, and we need to act like it.” According to the about page Fonda was inspired by Thunberg and other activists, especially youth activists, to begin the cleverly named Fire Drill Fridays as a way to get our political leaders to make fundamental changes toward saving our Earth.

Fonda has been arrested a total of five times for various reasons associated with her protests and has created quite a stir with her Washington DC based demonstrations. According to USA Today, at least 138 people were arrested along with Fonda at her Dec. 20 demonstration, which fell on Fonda’s 82 birthday.

While Fonda’s celebrity status allows her to make bold, arguably dangerous, moves for environmental policy reform, there are things that anyone, in any position, can do to combat climate change.

Chad Carwein, ECU’s sustainability manager, said that actually the biggest contributor to each of our individual carbon footprints is our diet. Keeping livestock and producing food is much more resource intensive than we ever could have imagined. Carwein said that by substituting just one pound of beef per week with chicken, that in a year’s time you would be saving almost 70,000 gallons of water. And yes, that is the right number of zeros -- 70,000 gallons of water saved.

“If we were to transition more towards a plant based diet, and I’m not saying that everyone needs to change their resolution to going full vegetarian or vegan overnight, but just a couple meals a week, or one week a month, things like that add up very quickly,” Carwein said.

With this year being an election year, we are seeing many Presidential candidates running for office on sustainability platforms. Treasurer of ECU’s EcoPirates club, Emily Rubino, said that paying attention to which candidates have a plan to increase sustainable practices is important to the fight against climate change.

“The individual can do things but companies and manufacturers are creating most air pollution and leading to this global warming trend,” Rubino said. “Government has the most say in whether or not that should be allowed so I think that looking at a candidate that cares about this issue and has a plan of action is super important.”

Carwein agreed with this sentiment saying that voters should educate themselves on the candidates and fulfill their civic duty by voting, but to bear in mind that the government alone cannot solve all of the problems associated with climate change.

“It’s not going to be solved solely by the government, it’s not going to be solved solely by the private sector and it’s definitely not going to be solved just by individual actions,” Carwein said. “It is going to take the whole gamut of tools and approaches and entities that we have to start solving these problems or at least pumping the breaks on them.”

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