By Emory Paul
After generations of lawmakers, government officials and corporate leaders have all played a role in creating our current climate crisis and done almost nothing to correct it, I believe it’s up to today’s youth to save our planet.
The impacts of climate change around the world — even in the United States — are already devastating. People are dying every day from the lack of access to clean water and food, and natural disasters like Category 4 or 5 hurricanes and the recent California wildfires have claimed thousands of lives and displaced many more.
It might seem like there isn’t much we, as teens, can do to fight the adverse effects of global warming, especially when public officials (who many of us aren’t old enough to vote for) continue to ignore or even deny climate change. But we have a voice, and we can use it.
The time for teens to take action against climate change is now.
Climate change is real, no matter what some skeptics might say. It’s caused by Earth’s rising surface temperature, which is also referred to as “global warming.”
When we release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, they trap sunlight and radiation that heat the planet. And human activities like burning fossil fuels in factories, driving gas-fueled cars and wasting natural resources are the driving forces behind climate change.
The serious side effects of climate change are happening around us, but we’re not talking about them enough.
You might not even realize the impact it’s having on your own life.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Air pollution from coal-fired power plants is linked with asthma, cancer, heart and lung ailments, neurological problems, acid rain, global warming, and other severe environmental and public health impacts.”
Over the past 35-plus years, the temperature in Atlanta has even risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, which may not seem like much, but can have a long-term impact.
We’re already experiencing extreme heat, like the 104-degree temperature that claimed the life of Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez, who was picking tomatoes in Georgia when he died.
We’re also likely to experience climate-induced droughts that can limit what our agricultural industry is able to produce, as well as dangerous wildfires like the ones we saw in California last year.
And elevated sea levels caused by melting glaciers and icebergs increase the risk of flooding in Georgia’s coastal cities.
So what can teens do?
Yes, we need our lawmakers and leaders to take action if we’re going to address the long-term effects of climate change, but there are things we can do to make a difference.
1. Drive Less
We can all find ways to help shrink our individual carbon footprint, and one of the biggest ways is by using our cars less.
So instead of driving or asking for a ride somewhere, you can walk, ride a bike or take advantage of MARTA.
Another way teens can have an impact is by eating less meat and dairy, which can help reduce the meatpacking industry’s carbon emissions.
2. Conserve Water
Access to clean water is starting to become scarce in many places around the world, so doing what we can to save water is important.
Try cutting back on how long you shower, and wash your clothes with cold water to conserve energy.
3. Use LED Bulbs
LED bulbs convert more energy into light than fluorescent and incandescent ones, so switch to LED bulbs to light up your room.
4. Vote Or Protest
If you’re old enough to vote, you should make sure you’re electing candidates who will work to help limit some of the adverse effects of climate change on our planet.
But if you can’t vote yet, raise your voice in protest.
Join a march that’s already happening, or start your own.
The point is that teens should come together to demand the change they want.
Countries and governments around the world must start addressing climate change head–on and realize its severe and drastic impact, or else, in around 30 to 80 years, more than 4 million people will be displaced due to the increasing ocean levels, 5.3 million acres of land are expected to burn, and roughly twice the people killed in World War II will die due to air pollution
Countries must work together and fight climate change.
We need more plans like the Paris Climate Agreement, so countries can hold each other accountable for decreasing their carbon emissions.
It is virtually impossible to eradicate climate change as a whole, but we can limit its harmful effects and decrease its significance, and it starts with teens.
The greatest change that we, as teens, can make is reducing our carbon footprint and speaking out.
Students around the world are protesting the lack of action their governments are taking to reverse the effects of climate change, as we’ve seen with the student-run Global Climate Strike.
It is up to teens and students to influence change in this world, and everyone else should follow our lead.
Emory, 16, attends Walton High School.
This story was published at VOXATL.org, Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression. For more about the nonprofit VOX, visit www.voxatl.org.