Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C. – Growing up in the era of accelerating climate change means finding a balance between fear and hope. As a 21-year-old college student, I search for this balance through the people I spend time around and work with – including through Appalachian State University’s Climate Action Collaborative (ClimAct).
As part of the Global Climate Strike, ClimAct this past September 20 hosted a rally that drew several hundred people to march through our small town in the mountains of North Carolina. From kindergartners to retirees and every age in between, our community really showed up. We drew out animal life too – a few dogs marched, and some protesters carried larger than life-sized paper mâché representations of some of the region’s species that are losing their habitat in a warming climate, including the giant hellbender salamander.
Most marchers were college students from App State, including march leaders who called chants with a megaphone (“no more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil”) and led protest songs in front of our county courthouse and town hall buildings. The feeling of so many passionate people uniting was positively electric; a spirit of hope and possibility emerged.
The journey leading up to that march had begun the previous October, with the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report. University faculty organized a town hall meeting to discuss how the community should respond to the climate experts’ call for rapid, transformative change.
That IPCC Report awakened me to the very real and pressing reality of climate change. I remember for the first time fearfully recognizing that climate change is devastating the world before my eyes. In that state of panicked realization, I calendared the town hall meeting, eager to heed the call to action. None of us could foresee the size of the crowd that would gather just a week later – standing room only, and walls lined with people – or the movement that would grow out of it.
Over the past year, the shared climate concern that brought so many from our community together at that 2018 town hall has blossomed into a thoughtfully structured movement and many positive actions. It’s been enormously gratifying to put the climate science, outreach, and environmental justice lessons learned in classes into practice through ClimAct. Engaging actively with a passionate community to build climate resilience, offered a sense of agency in the face of this overwhelming issue. I have drawn confidence in my ability to organize and faith in the power of people united to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.
While ClimAct stirred hope in the power of collective changemaking, it has also caused me to confront the climate crisis on a more uncomfortably personal level than I had before. I am privileged enough that climate change impacts have not yet significantly threatened my family’s finances or physical safety. Previously, my efforts to address climate change had consisted mostly of superficial lifestyle adjustments – reducing waste, eating a plant-based diet, and using public transportation or walking when possible. Reading the IPCC Special Report and working with ClimAct has changed things. Although engaging in collective climate action has helped soften the sense of remote helplessness, it also means acknowledging the severity of the crisis: This once seemingly abstract issue of climate change a matter of personal relevance and meaning.
I now think about, and feel confronted by, the climate crisis and the pressing nature of its implications multiple times a day. Frustration and fear clash with my desire to kindle hope.
I’m by no means alone in this, as my generation is increasingly experiencing fear and anger about climate change. There is hope that the science community regularly finds more evidence to support constructive action, even as many policy makers seem not to notice or care enough to act. Short timetables, and a running clock, only heighten the need for immediate efforts to yet avoid the worst consequences of further warming.
As I look forward to soon graduating, my own future and my hopes and plans for it are shrouded by the looming uncertainties of potential climate catastrophe. Conflicting thoughts about graduate school vie with anxiety about a narrow window to prevent the worst climate impacts. Far better, perhaps to address the urgent need to commit time and energy to climate action.
As I struggle with climate grief and anxiety, how could I now consider raising a young child to navigate this world? It’s a concern many others in my generation share, the sense that we should deny part of the essence of our humanity and biology as part of our climate crisis response.
I vacillate from hope to fear and back to hope again. Our recent march raises hope that is contagious. So when I feel the weight of climate change, I think back to these moments of building local and global momentum: They hold out the promise that if we work collectively in hope, we can accelerate the change we want and need to see.
It is from this place that I try to plan my future. While I have struggled with the reality of the climate crisis, I know I must face it bravely and translate my awareness into action. As I recognize that climate disruption is already wreaking devastation and that it will get worse before it gets better, I commit myself to working harder. I am dedicated to joining countless climate activists in doing all I can in the next 10 years and those that follow to ensure a safe and beautifully transformed future for my generation and those to come.
Chloe Fishman (fishmanca @ appstate.edu) is a senior majoring in sustainable development at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.