I’m a teenage climate activist. I speak for my entire generation when I say that I will be more hurt by the effects of climate change than any of the adults in power. It’s painful to have to fight and constantly pressure the very grownups who are supposed to be protecting me, for my basic right to a future.
Because representatives in the my state’s legislature are not working to pass up to-date, science-based environmental bills, my days, which should be filled with childish activities like sports and sleepovers, are consumed with phone calls, lobbying, emails, strategy meetings, organizing, and Op-Ed writing, trying to get those legislators to make the right decision for my future.
And I can’t help but wonder:
Why do we, the citizens, have to beg and persuade our legislators to make policies we think are right? Didn’t we elect those people? Don’t they work for us? Yet they strut around the State Capitol’s meeting rooms in sharp gray suits, full of importance, barely stopping to listen to the people who put them in that very position of power.
Today, there are around 406 parts per million of carbon in the air: a dangerously high level threatening my future. Currently, there are two bills in my State’s Legislature that propose targets for future carbon levels — but they have critical differences. One bill, House Bill 1144, proposes using out-of-date science and increasing carbon levels to 450 parts per million, a level that would have coastal cities submerged under water. Another bill, House Bill 1372, proposes using current, up-to-date science and decreasing carbon levels to 350 ppm, a common-sense solution that would put my state on a path to climate recovery.
But the bill that has the most support is the unscientific, “coast-submerging” bill, House Bill 1144. So youth in the environmental organization I volunteer for decided that if our leaders weren’t going to make the right decision for our future, we would have to step up and sacrifice to make sure the elected officials did their jobs.
Through calls and emails, we pushed for the Environmental Committee Chair to schedule a hearing for House Bill 1372.
Once the hearing was finally scheduled, we scrambled to prepare speeches so we could testify before the committee and make the case to the legislature on why the representatives should vote for the bill that protects our future.
Hearing day finally arrived, and a few other youth and I walked into Hearing Room B in the State Capitol.
There were two distinct voices present in that hearing room: those asking the legislators to vote for House Bill 1372 and ensure that kids will have a future, and those asking the legislators to vote against House Bill 1372, namely, the corporate world. My group’s testimonies were personal. Hopeful. Heartfelt.
We sat down at the desk in the middle of the hearing room, looked into legislators’ eyes, and recited our handwritten testimonies:
“Act now before it is too late.”
“Protect my future.”
“Do you have kids?”
Then came the Gray Suits. Their shady demeanor, with their lowered voices and evasive eyes, surprised me. They represented the Oil Industry and the Pulp and Mill Industry.
They brought up technicalities, percentages, and lawyer jargon: “You need to protect the industry.” They took IPCC reports out of context going so far as to say carbon emissions are a non-issue. When they finished talking, they walked to their seats with their eyes lowered, not meeting our gazes.
I wondered if they heard us whispering, ‘What? That’s not true!’ behind them while they testified against our best interests. I wonder if they felt even a flicker of guilt speaking against the basic rights of kids sitting right behind them.
And the legislators? Well, they looked back straight in our eyes while we spoke, and a few even smiled. Some of the representatives even hardened when the Corporate Suits testified.
HB 1372, though it got a hearing, died a few days after we kids gave our testimony, because the Environmental Committee Chair refused to even give it a vote. The other bill, HB 1144, which aims for disaster, is far ahead in the legislative process.
I am very disappointed in my leaders for not doing their part to ensure a livable future for kids. But, the fight goes on.
I will keep lobbying, testifying, and doing whatever else I need to do to make sure my generation has a healthy tomorrow. And I hope more teens will start doing the same.
At the end of the hearing, before heading home, we decided to at least celebrate our efforts for the day.
“How?” one of our adult chaperons asked.
“Let’s get pancakes!”
Because after teenagers fight for the future of the world, standing up to big-money lobbyists and pressuring our leaders to do their jobs, we just want pancakes.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.