Why a Minneapolis teenager is both tired, and hopeful, talking about climate change and Pope Francis.
By Sophia Morrissette, 16, Minneapolis, as Pope Francis prepares his talk to U.S. Congress in 2015
As a teenager, I’m tired of talking about climate change.
At school, I’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth about 20 times and done a project on polar bears or renewable energy sources almost every year. We’re taught that blasting hot or cool air and leaving lights on is bad, and recycling is good. We’ve been encouraged to talk to our families about reducing our carbon footprint and to start a garden at home.
It’s already “same old, same old” to me. So I can imagine how people older than me might feel. We know the issue is important. We know the little things we can do. And… we know that the big things we should be doing aren’t happening.
But… I feel a spark of energy, after hearing about the efforts of Pope Francis around climate change.
I know he is simply writing and talking as well… but I think his voice might make politicians and legislators uncomfortable when he visits U.S. Congress today (September 24, 2015). At least… I hope it does.
Because frankly… I’m not sure why it’s taking us so long to make important, big changes in the way we do business, and the way we build our homes, and the way we shop and consume, and then discard things we know shouldn’t go to the landfill when we’re done.
Among other things, I think we need government regulations to impose a carbon fee. Not to let businesses simply pay their way out of the practices they follow. But to pay an increasing amount each year based on how much pollution they send into our air and water, and have that money come back to taxpayers, who subsidize the work of recycling, and composting, and re-use centers we need to support in order to lessen the impact of pollution.
I also think we need businesses to give us fewer choices in terms of products we buy (and discard) that are not healthy for anything.
Of course, for those millions who die globally because of our wastefulness and excess, the impact is never lessened enough. And… that’s not including the wildlife and natural resources we’ve already destroyed.
In My State
For a few days this summer, in my home state of Minnesota, the air quality was dangerously bad for a few days because of wildfires far away in Canada. This was a tangible image of what happens to everything that goes into the atmosphere. It moves. It gets into our lungs. The World Health Organization reported that about 7 million people died of air pollution in 2012.
Recently, attention has been paid to legislate against microbeads. These are the bits of sand-grain-sized plastic particles in many of our personal care products — facial scrubs, shower gel, toothpaste — that are visible enough to us that we’re getting behind a ban to prevent the trillions of these toxic bits that are now getting into our water streams, sprayed on agriculture fields, and consumed by the fish we eat.
We think that because we can’t see or measure it easily, it’s not really happening. Or if it is happening, it’s all going to turn out okay in the end. Or, for those legislators who are starting to finally realize climate change and carbon emissions are highly damaging, some of them still want to blame it on volcanoes and natural disasters that are out of our control. And even some of those who believe in the human cause think that the little adjustments we’ve been doing are rolling the scale back.
We’ll never roll the scale back enough. And my generation, and the next generation, and the next generation, will pay for a different world than what adults now leading the country had to put up with.
What Can We Do?
But, there are solutions to make things… less worse. And I, for one, am happy that the Pope is pointing out that this is a moral imperative, not simply a discussion of economics vs. environmentalists. [I am a humanist, and don’t believe religion is the keeper of morality… but the Pope, and the Dalai Lama, and others, certainly can help empower more people to act on behalf of the world beyond our backyards.]
Having schoolchildren turn off the lights for the next few decades isn’t going to make enough difference. And debating for another decade how important this issue is won’t make a difference either.
Businesses and governments are important. They need to be leading this conversation in a bigger way. And… most of them are not. I hope the Pope will motivate at least a few more leaders to … lead.
Legislators aren’t going to require businesses to act unless more adults – not just farmers getting socked by drought and flooding, and not just Florida resorts nervous about water levels– make them do something to protect us, better than they have for decades.
And businesses – I’ve begun to believe – won’t look much past their 2015 bottom line, unless someone makes them. (I’m not sure why that’s such a challenging problem. It shouldn’t hurt business to keep people and our planet alive, healthy and capable of buying products well into the future.)
I’ve learned about several organizations that are taking bigger steps to action. I was an intern for Cool Planet Minnesota this summer, and they are part of a global Citizens Climate Lobby network that is focusing energy on the Paris Climate Summit that starts in November. I’m also going to a screening of a documentary about Minnesota climate change being hosted October 6 by Climate Change: A Will Steger Legacy.
But I sure hope we stop talking about this issue, and start working more as a whole toward making big changes together. I hope our U.S. Congressmen listen to that message from Pope Francis today — but I think nothing significant will change unless all of us push even harder for them to act on businesses… and unless all of us make deeper behavior changes, such as buying local, reducing waste, planting trees, using compost.