This week, brutal heat made headlines while scorching large swaths of the country.
On Sunday, Seattle sizzled at 104 degrees Fahrenheit, Portland at 112. Salem, Oregon hit a blistering 117 on Monday. Roads are crumbling. Cables are melting. Records are shattering. Power outages are ongoing. Lives are in danger. And it’s only June.
This heatwave isn’t inexplicable, of course. It’s not a freak occurrence, an off year, or a fluke. It’s the predictable result of an escalating climate emergency. And as a young person, knowing the worst is yet to come makes this weather all the more terrifying.
Existential, ongoing fear of climate change has driven many in my generation to take urgent action. On Tuesday, hundreds of youth climate activists from the Sunrise Movement protested in front of the White House, calling for action from the president. They barricaded entrances and drew impromptu speeches from progressive lawmakers like Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sunrise claims dozens of protesters were arrested, some carrying stark signs with phrases like reading such phrases as “For the air we breathe,” “for the people we love,” and “Biden, you coward, fight for us.”
The last sign presumably refers to Biden’s infrastructure bill, which fell significantly short of the commitments on climate promised during his campaign. But it’s indicative of a generational anger towards those in power — anger that I share. It’s part of why I started “Inherited,” a storytelling podcast about the youth climate movement hosted by me and my co-creator Julianna Bradley. (I also used to volunteer with Sunrise, though I am not currently active.)
“Inherited” explores the rage, grief, and fear young people like Julianna and I feel on a regular basis when we contemplate the climate crisis. Every unprecedented weather event – whether feverish heatwave, powerful hurricane, uncontrollable flood, or smoky orange sky – serves as an excruciating reminder that our future is slipping away from us. I’m not the first young person to say that I’ve witnessed scores of so-called “once-in-a-lifetime” weather events, and I’m sure to witness dozens if not hundreds more in the years to come.
Fossil fuel companies and elected officials have known about this crisis for over 50 years, yet they’ve pretended not to notice the agonizing ramifications that are now causing trauma, suffering and even death to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide – disproportionately those who are already marginalized, like the homeless population currently broiling alive on the streets of Portland. From refugees forced out of their home countries by climate disasters to Indigenous people losing their ways of life to Black families living with health problems as a result of environmental racism, the climate crisis preys upon the vulnerable and leaves the wealthy largely insulated from its consequences. The crisis is patently unfair and patently racist, caused by systemic greed, white supremacy, and unfettered capitalism.
Considering this, it is no wonder my generation is furious – as well we should be. It is crushing to know the suffering we’re witnessing now in the Pacific Northwest was preventable. It is devastating to understand there is more to come. This crisis shatters me on a daily basis. It breaks my heart.
Yet there is still hope. We are at a turning point, both scientifically and metaphorically speaking. Every fraction of a degree of warming that we can prevent will save lives, and there are so many more that remain on the line. These lives belong to people we know and love, people who are complete strangers, and even ourselves. That’s why we must put unyielding pressure on politicians, billionaires, and others in power to eliminate fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy. Society can and must do this in order to survive.
Young people know that a livable, joyful, caring, and just future is possible. It is because we cherish life that we fight for it.
It is the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do. So let’s fight like hell.