After Hurricane Ida ripped through the Gulf of Mexico and countries in the Caribbean, it tore through much of the southern United States. In Louisiana, it registered as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever seen before continuing its path of destruction North. The same hurricane that demolished homes in Venezuela flooded New York City only a week later.
Climate change due to fossil fuel emissions can cause extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida to become more frequent and become stronger. In the past year, the warmest places in the country experienced unbelievable cold, only after the coolest places in the country faced record-breaking heat. Infrastructure designed for normal weather failed in both places, leaving those most vulnerable to suffer the worst consequences.
Many of us already know this. As a young climate activist, I cannot stop thinking about the effects of the looming climate crisis my generation will have to deal with — the effects many around the world are already feeling. I obsessively research these effects and their causes, learning even more about how devastating the damage will be and how unbelievably corrupt our elected officials are.
Individual action feels impossibly small while corporations pollute recklessly, and the people who are not already on the side of climate preservation seem not to care enough to do anything. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it cursed many in my generation with the paralyzing burden of knowing too many horrible things at once.
Much of the online discussion regarding climate change is centered around these depressing ideas — that we are all doomed, that the human race is a blight upon the Earth, that nothing will ever change and we’ll see the apocalypse by the end of our lifetimes. News sites that report on climate often capitalize on these fears, evoking fear with clickbait headlines.
But that is not the full truth — not even close. There are countless organizations making real change on both a national and a local scale as we speak. One such organization is the Environmental Voter Project, which contacts environmentally conscious non-voters. They published several studies on their findings and have pushed hundreds of thousands of people nationwide to vote for their already-existing beliefs.
Locally, the Lawrence Hub of the Sunrise Movement, of which I am a part, and Justice Matters advocate for climate action & progressive policy in Lawrence.
Sunrise recently hosted a rally in front of Lawrence’s City Hall before voicing our concerns about the city’s lack of climate action in the upcoming 2022 budget at a city commission meeting. Nineteen people gave public comments, a substantial number for city commission meetings. Our plan is to continue meeting with city employees and advocating for Lawrence to be a green, equitable city.
Similarly, Justice Matters, an interfaith social justice organization, advocates for reducing the incarcerated population and housing the unhoused — two communities greatly affected by the climate crisis. Both Mayor Brad Finkledei and Commissioner Shannon Portillo of Douglas County Commission have since committed to this platform, and Justice Matters continues to push the county on these issues.
This is all incredibly heartening, but in a world that asks you to pay attention to everything, you may be wondering what would be best to focus your energy towards. As the excellent climate journalist Emily Atkin puts it, “Anything.” There has never been a better time to act on your concerns for the climate, to give whatever you feel you are able to activism. It is not too late to enact change that could significantly reduce the scale of impending disasters, and the International Energy Agency agrees.
While making personal lifestyle changes that reduce your impact is important, it only addresses a minimal percentage of the change necessary if Earth is to fully decarbonize in time to avoid the worst of the crisis. Instead, the most important work ahead of us is being loud about climate action in local, state, and national politics.
As it stands, our environmental future looks grim. But the way forward isn’t scaring yourself by pursuing an impossible idea of being perfectly "informed." Mary Hegler, another climate journalist and activist, says the most important thing is finding what you can save and taking pride in that. This can look like publicly supporting climate action, showing up where and when you can, and talking to your friends and family about voting green.
Whatever you’re able to do, whatever you want to accomplish — we’d love to have you.
Joel Campbell is a sophomore at KU studying Mechanical Engineering. He co-leads Sunrise Movement Lawrence’s Public Policy team.