By Mia Hail
Lower Merion High
March 2020 was the month that changed the lives of Noah Barkan and Abby Braslow, two students at Lower Merion High. Within a matter of weeks, schools shifted to remote learning, governors shut down private and state institutions, issued mask mandates, and the U.S. economy went into the tank. Everything in the news squarely focused on COVID-19.
Today, as we continue to battle the scourge of the pandemic, one thing has not faded in the rear-view mirror: Our planet remains in great peril due to global warming.
“I’m really truly terrified for the fate of my generation, and more importantly for the following generation,” said Noah Barkan, a 15-year old sophomore at Lower Merion. “And I’m more concerned for the communities who don’t have the privilege like our area, and don’t have the resources to overcome climate change.”
Teenagers are becoming frustrated and worried as governments’ inaction has left them searching for answers and facing an uncertain future.
“Big oil companies are profiting off of destroying the planet and we are the ones supporting them,” said Abby Braslow, a junior at Lower Merion and an avowed environmental activist. “We’re the ones giving them money everyday to dig in our soil. Guess who doesn’t do anything? The people who are supposed to be helping us are sitting back and watching our world go up in flames, quite literally.”
Climate change is not a new phenomenon. Humans have been steadily damaging the planet for decades, yet almost no definitive action has been taken.
But for the last two and a half years, COVID-19 and its devastating effects around the world have shifted the focus from saving the planet to saving lives.
Science teacher Taryn Stevens has taught aspects of fossil fuels, rising seas levels, carbon pollution, and renewable energy at Lower Merion for the last seven years.
“COVID-19 was seen as an immediate problem that many people had personal experiences with,” Stevens said. “While the effects of climate change are clearly seen, people picture them as vague issues that are far out into the future.”
However, the effects of climate change are not “far out” or “vague.”
There is clear evidence of changes happening around the world. Everyday people drive cars, cut down trees, throw away plastic, and release harmful chemicals — all of which adds more greenhouse gasses to those naturally occurring in the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect and global warming.
Hurricanes, droughts, flooding, tornadoes, and other natural disasters occur with more frequency around the world. Arctic ice sheets are melting at a rate of 427 billion metric tons per year.
A recent study predicted that the U.S. coastline will rise by at least 12 inches by 2050. No doubt such a rise in sea levels will wreak havoc on coastal areas. “As climate impacts worsen – and they will – scaling up investments will be essential for survival. … Delay means death.” That was the ominous warning issued by the UN in a February report.
Meanwhile the climate crisis is a source of confusion, dread, and even hopelessness among teens.
“I feel bad for the young generation. We are putting the entire burden on you, your generation,” said Stevens. “But you are not the ones who caused the problem.”
With all the focus on the pandemic, have people forgotten about an issue that could soon change our world? Almost no legislation against climate change has been created. One source of hope — Biden’s Build Back Better plan to increase funding toward renewable energy — has been stuck in Congress for months with no clear future.
“I think it really comes down to the fact that industries have taken over the role of the government,” said Barkan. “The reason why the government hasn’t been able to make strides against climate change is because for-profit industries are the ones who are influencing what happens against climate change.”
These sentiments are shared not only by concerned students at Lower Merion, but young people around the world, some who are world-renowned climate activists.
Nineteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has become a driving force for a young generation taking a stand on global warming.
Back in 2019, she highlighted how the burden of climate change falls upon the youth. “We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.”
With the pandemic, people thought that climate change was becoming a problem that could be magically erased.
“Initially, we saw that people were not going out using their cars, and there were articles about how that would slow down climate change, but overall I don’t think there was a major direct influence,” Stevens noted.
This data of decreasing carbon emissions due to reduction in transportation may have done more harm than good.
Said Barkan: “Obviously there was the decrease in CO2 from the decrease in transportation, but this decline was just a mere abnormality that has been perceived by some as a decline in climate change as a whole.”
Even while attacking the Coronavirus, people seemingly forgot about climate change and its effects on the earth. To fight COVID-19, an increased supply of disposable masks, protective gear, and testing kits all needed to be created; these all contributed to increasing plastic pollution.
Climate change can’t be solved by a few individuals daring to speak out; or sporadic decreases in carbon emissions; or even one government enacting positive policies. The world must work together in the fight against climate change and that starts with educating young people.
“If kids are brought up understanding climate change they are more willing to make lifestyle changes, they will help push the changes that need to happen on the government level” Stevens said.