In the path of a monster

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Growing up in the era of climate change is like living out that classic nightmare in which you can’t run away. A monster is coming, something sinister, but you can’t move. You can see the consequences, you can see how to escape, yet despite your kicks and screams, your body is stuck. Actually, it would be more accurate to say it’s that your legs, which have been letting you stand in the path of this monster the whole time, hear you but still refuse to move.

Today’s youth, the Gen Zers and early 20-somethings, have grown up in a unique environment of climate change awareness. We didn’t learn about climate change in our adulthood; it was never presented to us as a new discovery but rather it was embedded in our fundamental understanding of the world. For us, unlike our parents and grandparents, grappling with climate change has always been ingrained in our hopes, and our fears, for the future.

In my lifetime alone, the conversation about climate science has shifted from how to stop climate change to how to reel it back to warming less than 2 degrees Celsius. That is staggering. Not only because the projected results are apocalyptic, but because they are already here. Massive storms, unprecedented glacial retreat, record-setting heatwaves, famines, droughts, sea-level rise, climate refugees and beginnings of mass migrations it all seems more like the plot for a dystopian novel than today’s real world. And the list continues on with unprecedented biodiversity loss, habitat decimation, flooding, desertification and ocean acidification. It’s not just that literal catastrophe is projected; it’s that it is already upon us. 

Last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report saying we have less than 12 years to act before climate change becomes irreparable. In response, the internet exploded. Climate articles were shared everywhere and infographics were reposted on everybody’s social media — the world cried out for change. But today, nearly a year later, we still have no plan for action. We are so used to hearing the shattering reminders about the state of the world that we’ve become desensitized to this literal crisis. As a result, nothing actually happens. The science is denied, our voices are ignored and the severity and consequences of climate change continue to worsen with each day that we sit idle. My heart is literally racing while I write this. What are we waiting for? This prolonged inaction is outrageous. It is irresponsible. It is terrifying.

Being in this fight often feels like I’m banging my head against the wall — I’m watching the world and our futures crumble apart and there is nothing I can do. But worse than just feeling powerless — I’m starting to forget why I’m even trying. Sometimes, this struggle feels so unapologetically overwhelming that I catch myself questioning whether my effort is even worth it. Maybe this sounds shrill or dramatic, but if delving into the nitty-gritty of all that we’re up against doesn’t start to panic you, I don’t think you really grasp the full extent of what we are talking about. 

Let me be clear — this fight is not just about biodiversity and conservation. It is about justice and equity, about having clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, about the ability to grow the food and the ecosystem services that literally keep us alive. While climate change will impact us all, the displaced consequences most severely fall on the marginalized peoples not responsible for creating these problems. It happens both globally, in the disparity between industrialized nations that spew emissions and pollutants yet bear fewer of the forecasted disasters, and within the U.S., with exposures and “natural disasters” that largely affect communities of color and low-income communities. In this structurally violent climate gap, the fight for climate justice is a fight for human rights. 

As seniors in college, my peers and I are not only faced with daunting questions of post-grad life and impending career decisions but also with questions regarding the uncertainty of a future of climate change. I wrestle with the questions of not only, “What am I going to do after I graduate?” but also, “What can I do, when the entire planet’s future hangs in the balance?”. Addressing climate change is so massive, multifaceted and exhausting that it is easy to dissociate, to pull the wool over our own eyes. I reassure myself by saying that I’m doing my part by dedicating my career and academics to the environment. That after all my hard work now, I will walk away from this education with the exact tools necessary to combat this global crisis. But I know, deep down, that no matter how hard I push myself, it all means nothing without action — right now.

The world is at a tipping point and how we choose to proceed will make all the difference. I am angry and scared that it has gotten this far, but above all else, I am hopeful. I do and always have considered myself an optimist. The money is out there (remember the Notre Dame burning?), the technology for green energy exists and now we have young people around the globe demanding to have a chance at a livable future. The reality is that we must act now. It is time to be disruptive. It is time to be heard. 

That’s why I’m striking. That’s why I am fighting to, literally, save the planet. And I’ll echo Greta Thunberg in telling you this; if there is only one movement you should show up for this year, if there is only one day you stand up and raise your voice, make it this one. 

According to Thunberg, “We need to get angry and understand what is at stake. And then we need to transform that anger into action and to stand together united and just never give up. We are striking to disrupt the system, to create attention. And I just hope that it will turn out well.”

Annapurna Holtzapple is a senior majoring in Global Environmental Politics and double minoring in Food Systems and in Forestry. She is the President and c0-founder of Berkeley’s chapter of Epsilon Eta, a Project Manager with Herbicide Free Cal, and works for the SERC Leaflet’s Justice and Politics team.