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“Your actions affect me”

Posted by Cailin Sullivan on Apr 08, 2013
Tags: climate change news, generation climate

"Generation Climate" is a blog series that gives voice to those who will experience the brunt of climate change: young people. Cailin Sullivan, a NativeEnergy intern from Middlebury College, contributed this post.

When I returned from the library last Sunday night, a debate was raging, per usual, in the living room of my tiny house on the edge of campus. Adam, our hard-headed econ major, had his iPhone out and was furiously fact-checking as he gesticulated at Jared, a sociology major. The topic wasn’t the merit of a Skyfall or the don’t-go-to-law-school argument that occurs weekly as we get closer to graduation—it was global warming. "I just think this is the defining problem of our generation, and we’re messing it up," sighed Jared. Adam rolled his eyes. "Well, obviously. I’ll agree with you on that point."

Since our arrival on campus four years ago, the issue of climate change has become almost omnipresent. We watched Hurricane Irene wipe the roads to our school off the face of the mountains that surround it, and a student raising donations for natural disaster relief has become a staple of the library lobby. So how does a class that is inundated with climate change information, both scientific data and personal experience, adapt and respond?

My classmates and I have been bombarded with statistics, infographics, even 3D disaster films since we were in high school—an endless loop of reminders of the environmental downward slide we will soon be responsible for slowing. We are some of the earliest to have grown up almost entirely engulfed in the internet and its boundless information and misinformation—and we are consequently critical, informed, and concerned.

Green has been a buzzword for my generation for years now—we look for socially responsible brands, gush over farm-to-table restaurants, seek out organic and sustainable on the labels of every product we pick up. "Many live their lives making green individual lifestyle choices, such as becoming vegetarian and biking more. But the majority of the carbon dioxide pollution is coming from the burning of fossil fuels on such a large scale that personal lifestyle choices can’t battle the immense destruction," noted my friend Kristina, a fellow student at Middlebury.

Recently, a new color was added to the heat map to include the extreme temperatures experienced on January 7 in Australia, ranging up to 104.5 degrees F. What other changes will occur in the coming years as the global climate continues to shift? According to the International Energy Agency, within the next five years we will move from a moment of opportunity to a "locked-in" situation of global climate change. If we continue to build carbon-producing factories and rely on unsustainable energy sources, it appears that the changes will be dramatic. Words like "catastrophic" and "irreversible" are tossed around—but what does it mean for real people?

 For 21-year-old students like my friends and me, it means looking to cities like Minneapolis to start our lives instead of at-risk coastal cities like New York or San Francisco. Over dinner the other day, my Minnesotan friend stated blankly that his hometown would be a nice place to live in the coming years, a little warmer and insulated from dramatic coastal weather. There’s a gallows-humor to our sense of impending climate change. The draft National Climate Assessment, released on January 11, states that "even given the low end of sea level rise scenarios... the chance of what is now a one-in-10-year coastal flood event in the Northeast could triple by 2100, occurring roughly once every 3 years." A flooded and blacked out New York City could occur every three years—is that where I want to start my career, raise a family? Even as we organize and insist on policy changes to combat climate change, my generation is planning for the worst.

The National Climate Assessment suggests severe heat, floods, and drought in the years to come, but I hope there will also be positive changes. New consumer developments like the tiny house movement or even the local food movement point to a growing demand for responsible business. Innovations in renewable sources of energy—fun and creative ones, like Pavegen’s floor tile that collects energy from student’s footfalls in the hallway, lead me to hope. As my generation graduates college and moves into leadership positions, I hope the urgent passion of our college days will translate into action and change.

When environmental activist Bill McKibben spoke at my college this January, he projected a photo of young men in Haiti standing knee-deep in the murky water of their washed out road, holding signs that read: "Your actions affect me." I hope, and honestly think, that my generation—so linked together by Facebook and Twitter updates from across the globe—will find it impossible not to act on that responsibility.

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