Storytelling as Climate Action
The following post was written by Emma Venarde (she/her) who is a Climate Communicator, Environmental Science student at Brown University, and Youth Advisory Board member at the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program.
Hi, I’m Emma, and I am a nineteen-year-old New Yorker who drinks too much coffee, plays upright bass, and obsessively knits sweaters. I am currently an environmental science student trying to find my place in the fight for a livable, equitable future (and trying my best not to panic).
I was born in 2002 when the Earth had already warmed 0.63ºC, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 373.37 ppm and the eighth conference of the parties, COP8, took place to try and coordinate global climate action. I was born into a world that was already warmer than it should be.
By the time I graduated from high school, we had passed 1ºC of warming, 400 ppm, and COP26 (as well as my graduation) had been postponed due to a global pandemic. For my generation, dreams of growing old in a world without climate change are simply unrealistic.
So my dream world is not one without climate change, but one in which we use this crisis as an opportunity to reorient ourselves to non-human nature and address historic inequalities.
As many have said before me, climate change is the symptom of root issues like colonization, racism, and sexism. If we do this right, we can tackle those issues too as we fight for climate justice. My picture of the future is fuzzy and constantly shifting, but I know I want to grow old in a world where the birds are still singing.
I am on winter break right now and I am really relishing the time I have to process and feel the events of the past fall. I attended COP26 with a youth delegation from the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program. The Wild Center is a museum in upstate New York that practices powerful climate change education at its finest. It was such an honor to be able to represent this incredible organization and the broader U.S. Action for Climate Empowerment delegation at COP26 and inspiring to meet people from all over the world who have committed their lives to this work. But it was also really scary. The immense inequality at these conferences was viscerally apparent: a third of Pacific Island Nations, which are some of the countries put most at risk by climate change, did not even have a delegation to COP26. This is especially jarring when you confront the fact that the largest “delegation” present was, in fact, fossil fuel interests with over 500 badges awarded to representatives of the fossil fuel industry. I had been warned again and again that COPs are not a viable path to climate justice. But I wanted to believe so badly that COP26 would give me hope. Instead, it numbed me.
I did not cry the entire time I was at COP26 or for days afterward, which is atypical for me (I am a very emotional teenager). Eventually, I broke down. I felt utterly helpless and useless and like it was already too late. I stewed in that feeling as I caught up on my school work and saw my family on Thanksgiving and studied for finals and made latkes and played with my band and turned in my last paper and drove home to find New York City embroiled in a battle against the Omicron variant. Now that I have some time just to exist, that feeling of despair is dissipating. I have time to sit with all of the stories I heard at COP and feel them one by one. Feel the panic, the outrage, but also the determination. As I continue to engage in this work, I wish for more time to process and feel so I can refocus myself on hope instead of fear.
Right now, I am a college student getting my climate education, but even before I started my "proper" climate education, I was trying my hand at being a climate educator. In high school, I led workshops for my classmates and at climate summits and eventually created the first Bronx Youth Climate Summit my senior year. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was doing. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. For those who wish to educate themselves and others about climate change, the most important thing I have learned is to speak your own truth. Educators at the Wild Center call this “telling your climate story.” I believe climate stories are especially important when discussing health and mental health because those issues are deeply personal.
Big numbers can shut people down or numb them. Stories invite people in.
I tend to think and talk about climate change on a massive scale, which is not helpful for me or others. I want to work on telling climate stories more often, especially when I am engaging with people who may not see why climate action is important. I can spew statistics I learned in school all I want but sharing that I worry whether it would be morally okay for me to have children someday encourages people to truly listen. I would like to lean into truth and vulnerability as I continue to engage in climate education.
I play jazz upright bass and I feel most free when I play music. I recently joined an all-femme band and the experience of playing with them has been nothing if not liberating. Music may seem separate from climate work, but I find music is often a part of climate work, especially at protests.
I’ll leave you with one last story from COP26. The last day I was in Glasgow, hundreds of civil society observers walked out of the negotiations in protest. As people began to walk out, women from the Gender Constituency started to sing. Each of us joined in as we grabbed onto a long red ribbon and slowly marched out of that space to join protesters on the streets, screaming and shouting and singing for our futures. Music is a source of liberation for me because it helps me feel. In that moment I felt anger and determination and hope and frustration all at once coursing through those songs and chants, but also joy. I think it is really important, especially if you do climate work or other social justice work, to find something that helps you feel joy.
While the majority of her time these days is spent studying, during the summer months Emma is also available for public speaking, freelance blogging, and jazz concerts. If you’re a fellow member of Gen Z trying to find your place in the movement against climate change, please feel free to reach out.
Get in touch with Emma:
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and explore the LW site.
May you have the courage to liberate yourself.
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