Confessions of a Teenage Environmentalist – Grace Swenson

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? During the brief period of my infancy, this is the euphemistic question my mother would ask me when there were contradicting things to share but too extreme to say outright: She forgot to buy my favorite candy at H-Mart, but we could watch a movie that night. A letter from Grandma was delivered, but part of it got ripped in the mail. This is a question most people are familiar with, and it often softens the everyday blows of life. Because of this, I have to ask you: Regarding the concept of climate change and environmental crisis, which do you want to hear first, the good or the bad? The optimistic younger version of myself would’ve wanted the good first.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, air quality and noise reduction has improved around the world, benefiting many patients’ respiratory conditions. On a broader scope, organizations and conservational trailblazers such as National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, and countless TED speakers continue to educate and inspire people across different continents about the possible solutions to the ongoing climate crisis and the shrinking environmental landscape.

Ready for the bad? Over 43 billion tons of natural resources have been extracted from Earth in 2020, we could potentially exhaust our freshwater in 19 years, the estimated death of all rainforests is in close to 80 years, 1 million natural species are at risk of extinction by 2030, and the Arctic’s thickest ice has decreased by 95%, endangering thousands of organisms large and small. I’ll let you decide which news takes precedence.

With the gargantuan amount of overwhelming statistics that appear from a simple Google search, I’ve often hopelessly wondered why none of this is covered in the news but is instead silently posted in the far corners of the internet and written in microscopic print in the magazines rarely viewed. Why did people talk about the extinction of the white rhinos for only a day? Why is the illegal murder of an elephant or clearing of an acre in the Amazon Rainforest worth less than a human life?

I’ve come to realize that people are always searching for a singular someone to blame when a tragedy occurs. After all, it makes solving the issue so much easier, right? That being said, we are faced with a challenge, for the exacerbation of climate change is because of us. What are we supposed to do with a responsibility that great? We take the easy way out: we sweep the problem underneath our rugs, click out of that depressing polar bear clinging-to-a-shard-of-ice image, and ignore the pieces of trash in our neighborhood creeks. Out of sight, out of mind. This is the most dangerous aspect of our issue, yet, like many conflicts in our society, the answer lies in STEM.

In the 21st century, the internet, engineering, and all things STEM embody a perfect yin and yang relationship. A perfect division lies between the greatness of interconnectivity and the darkness that can consume people with a click of a button or a single image. However, though the dark may overshadow any positives in both science and our environmental war, we have procrastinated climate change to the point where spreading awareness is one of our last resorts. Utilizing the internet and combining science with engineering to find fast solutions for a long term problem cannot happen unless we, a we of all races, genders, ages, and sexualities, set aside our current issues and instead open our eyes to the dying world. Because unlike the toddler me who always wanted the good news first, we, as a collective group of humans, have to rip off the bandaid, educate ourselves, plant that seed, and deal with the bad now.

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