I attended the UN Youth Climate Change Summit with zero experience in climate science, policy, or activism. Just a film student with an extensive background in film literature and some in communication studies, I nervously entered the UN Trusteeship Council with my DSLR and scattered thoughts about current events. While I did not know everything about the ozone or greenhouse gasses that a scientist or environmentalist would, I’ve always been conscious about climate change. Noticing the fluctuation in weather patterns and reading up on the melting of polar ice caps made me fear what the future might bring. Prior to this summit, I thought climate change was a problem too big to solve. However, this experience taught me otherwise. In fact, it inspired me.
For an entire day, I was surrounded by people of all different ages, nationalities, and backgrounds who had come together to tackle one of the biggest issues in our society. Once the first panel started, I was shocked to see how many students, some even younger than me, were engaging in conversations about an issue that many adults in America believe to be a hoax. With students like Greta Thunberg and Bruno Rodriguez discussing the state of our environment with such passion and expertise, I will dispute anyone who tells me today’s youth are “lazy” or “don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Panel after panel, I was introduced to eye-opening information on how individuals, communities, companies, and others can mitigate the effects of climate change through sustainability-minded projects, products, and practices. These events not only introduced me to a variety of solutions but also taught me how climate change is intersectional—how its impacts permeate through other issues. Finding solutions to climate change is about more than just improving the environment; we need to consider how it affects the economy, how it affects race and social class, how it impacts minority groups and even gender politics.
A favorite panel of mine was in the afternoon, titled, “A Race We Must Win: Sprinting Together to 2020.” During this session, a panel of Olympians and other elite athletes banded together to discuss how the effects of climate change directly impact the future of sports, thus connecting the issue to everyday life.
The panel opened with marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson stating that climate change affects our workouts and overall health. Across frequent visits to the Gulf of Maine, she had noted rising waters, changes in species, warmer temperatures, and even an increase in the intensity of the sun’s UV rays. While exercising outdoors has its health benefits, Samuelson concluded that “if we want to have a healthy body, we need to have a healthy environment.” The panel continued with further anecdotes from American snowboarder Chloe Kim, Tongan taekwondo practitioner Pita Taufatofua, American sabre fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, American professional skateboarder Eric Koston, and British competitive sailor Hannah Mills. While all the athletes came from different backgrounds and experiences, they unanimously agreed their love for sports motivated them to advocate for the environment. Ibtihaj expressed the connection best by simply saying, “I care about climate change. I know it affects each of us in detrimental ways... and the bottom line is, if there is no planet, there is no sport.”
I appreciated this panel as the speakers spoke from the perspectives of conscientious everyday people. These athletes might not have an extensive background in the sciences, but their careers (like all careers, honestly) rely on the environment. The personal stories they shared helped me realize that caring for the planet is not a choice. Climate change is an issue that affects us all, no matter what we do or where we live. With this in mind, it is mandatory that we step up as a society and take action from the ground up, starting at the individual level and working our way up to institutions.
Besides the thought-provoking speeches and presentations on different aspects of climate change, what truly took me by surprise was the abundance of solutions available to handle this issue. Most of what I hear on climate change is news about its never-ending problems shared via social media. Every time I scroll through Instagram or watch story posts from friends, there are posts designed to raise awareness about various social issues—but that awareness is usually negative. We use social media as a tool to get a problem across to other communities, but how often do we let people know what they can do to fix it? This is what the UN Foundation’s Communications Officer, Chandler Green, discussed in her two minutes in front of the Trusteeship Council. She expressed that, in terms of statistics, we only see solutions in media 13% of the time. This number shocked me, but it also made a lot of sense.
Given that statistic, I understood why climate change seemed so intimidating and hopeless at first. Furthermore, I understood why many other people believe the world is going to fall apart due to the impacts of climate change—they simply aren’t aware of what can be done. And thus, in my role as a social media contributor for Connect4Climate’s #YouthTakeover, I realized that social media is more than a tool to get a point across. Why add yet another negative post about the problem to the Instagram feed when you could instead create a photoset illustrating how one can make their daily life more sustainable? As Chandler Green asserted, “nothing can be accomplished without passion.” Anyone can tackle climate change if they have the hope and commitment to act.
Fighting against climate change is only an impossible feat if you take it as such. While we cannot undo what has already been done, we can be proactive and move forward with bold new strategies. And with the help of social media, if we give people content and information, they can reciprocate with action. Imagine then the beneficial outcomes we can reap for our environment and our society in the years to come.
Banner image courtesy of Jessica Schlimmer. First photo in article courtesy of Maria-Isabelle Parada; remaining two by the Connect4Climate #YouthTakeover team.