Oftentimes when I imagine what earth will look like in the next 20-30 years, I envision a post-apocalyptic scene; a smoky haze sits in the air, buildings are run-down and glint with broken glass, the streets are eerily quiet, and weeds work their way up through the cracks in the sidewalk. It’s probably just an exaggeration, and the result of me watching one too many episodes of The Last of Us. But then again, maybe it’s not so far off.
It is very easy to be pessimistic and fall into a pit of climate doomism. I am currently majoring in environmental engineering, and I often wonder if what I am doing and working towards is all for nothing. While I am still in the early stages of my undergraduate studies, my goal is to eventually make renewable energy and regenerative farming more mainstream.
But, I wonder how I could possibly do that when many of our nation’s politicians are funded by big gas and oil companies and serve as a mouthpiece for these industries. Currently, not much progress has been made to curb the rising temperatures and energy consumption of the globe. While I am sitting in a classroom each week learning about physics and calculus, millions of people have already lost their homes and lives to wildfires and floods that are caused or exacerbated by climate change.
So I sit here, and wonder, what can I do? As a fifth grader, I remember thinking that when I grew up, I was going to make it my goal to “stop climate change,” and travel the world to see the coral reefs that would no longer be bleached, and all the rhinoceroses that would be saved from extinction. While I may still be just as stubborn as my fifth grade self, I have much less naivety, and I understand that climate change is a lot more complicated than that.
The United States has not yet managed to stop coal and oil drilling infrastructure being built on federal land, or set limits on how much waste big corporations can emit into the atmosphere, land, and water. Organizations like Empowered by Light are at the forefront of a new generation of technology and re-thinking our energy sources. It is going to take smaller-scale, nonprofit organizations to make the push for transitioning from fossil fuels and biofuels to more carbon neutral alternatives.
While I do believe that the climate crisis can only continue to worsen over the next few decades, I am perhaps morbidly hopeful that the state of our environment will reach a point at which it will be so unbearable that the climate crisis absolutely cannot be ignored by any individual or politician. I would also argue that we are already at that point. The post-apocalyptic scene that I described earlier is already a reality. Just a few months ago, I stepped outside my house, just north of Chicago, to the smell of a campfire and a visible haze of smoke coming from the wildfires in Canada. Climate change is here. In fact, it has been here the whole time. But in that moment, standing outside my door in the smoke, I felt a sense of urgency and helplessness all at once.
We saw during the pandemic how nature thrives when humans step back for a moment - global greenhouse gas emissions actually went down. But not long after, we went right back to where we left off. The pandemic lowered emissions because it slowed economic activity, and limited travel. Perhaps if countries like the U.S., who consume an unparalleled amount of food and material items compared to the rest of the world, were to curb their consumption, we could see some change again. After all, I am a believer that every individual action counts. Even household items that we don’t give a second thought to, are contributing to the demise of our ecosystem: examples include everyday objects such as toothbrushes, razors, caps to recyclable plastics, and markers. We can transition into small-scale actions to fight the waste of big corporations. As the consumer, we have the power to make that choice.
I believe that having hope is a form of protest. Believing that we can still reduce our waste and carbon output, transition to renewable energy sources, and lower the climate’s temperature is the only way forward. If we give up now, there is no doubt in my mind that the next generation of children will be living in an uninhabitable world.
Note: Parker Rosenthal is a sophomore studying environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. When Parker was 13 years old she initiated a fundraising campaign raising over $7,000 for Empowered by Light to power lighting, fans and tablet and phone charging with solar+storage for Kabula Primary school located in a very poor and remote area of Western Zambia.