What I learned at high school

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to Nathan Hale High School students as part of their Climate Day of Action. Hopefully, the students learned a few things from my talk, The Climate Crisis and the Four Levels of Action (you can view my presentation at tinyurl.com/cdoa-4levels), but what I want to write about today is not what I taught them, but what I learned from my day spent at Nathan Hale. 

The author. Photo by Meghan Tinnea.

First of all, the day itself  was a great example of level three – community – action and how a few people, in this case, three extremely passionate and devoted young women, all members of the Climate Justice Club, with the assistance of some amazing teachers and a great cast of invited speakers, could communicate so effectively and poignantly about climate change to their community, the students and teachers of Nathan Hale High School. This reminds me of the wonderful quote from Margaret Mead who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

My second lesson of the day was that kids are worried. During the three sessions I presented, I asked who was anxious about climate change and pretty much every hand went up everytime I asked the question. This corroborates a recent global survey of youth in 21 countries that found that more than half the respondents felt very worried or extremely worried about climate change and that three quarters thought the future was frightening.

My third lesson was that despite their anxiety, the majority of students I spoke to were pretty knowledgeable about climate change, its effects, and its solutions, and wanted to help. 

My fourth lesson was that many in the world are still working against meaningful and necessary  change and will continue to push falsehoods. One of the students I spoke to raised her hand to tell me that electric cars and their batteries were much worse for the environment than gas-powered cars. (Studies show quite the contrary: when considering the full life cycle of the vehicles, eclectic cars are much better for the climate and the environment as compared to a gas or diesel powered vehicle). “Where did she get her facts?”, I asked. Her father, an auto industry employee, incidentally, had told her.

My final lesson was one of hope. It’s become clear that my generation’s leaders have so far failed to put the brakes on the climate crisis, but these kids made me realize that the next few generations will not be sitting on the sidelines, continuing to elect leaders who are either unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to save our planet from the climate crisis. The youth understand what is at stake and they will act to shake things up. I just hope and pray it’s not too late.

Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 

Paul Litwin

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