Fifty-one years ago, young people planted trees for the first Earth Day.
Today, students are taking part in environmental law, science and other disciplines to heal the planet.
“You don’t have to be an environmental professional to help the environment,” Briana Allison, an environmental science student at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, wrote to VOA. “Everyone should find a way to get involved in preserving the planet we call home.”
Climate change is a huge issue for younger people. Those under age 30 are so worried about the planet that experts have given their concern a name: eco-anxiety. Stress about climate change affects their daily lives, said nearly half of 2,017 adults polled in 2019 by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association.
Allison is specializing in physical geology and what climate change has done to the coasts.
“It is important to point out that climate change contributes to issues like flooding and coastal erosion,” Allison wrote to VOA. “I personally have acknowledged that climate change is involved, and I make sure I bring it up when sharing my environmental passions with others.”
She continued, “I completed research over the topics and, in my conclusion, I mentioned the negative effects of climate change regarding flooding and erosion. I am committed to making others aware of it and not ignoring that this issue exists.”
Bongekile Kuhlase studies at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, where she is earning her master’s degree in plant ecology. In an email to VOA, Kuhlase noted that it is important not to dwell on the past when it comes to today’s environment.
“Mistakes were made, it’s good to acknowledge that, only so that it does not happen again,” she explained. Kuhlase’s studies have allowed her to “effectively plan ways to try restore the ecology that previously used to exist” in an environment.
“I’m literally living my dream right now doing community-based conservation and land restoration,” she wrote to VOA. “I believe humans aren’t separate from nature and for real change, we need to be part of the solutions, teaching the community as well as learning from them and their native ways.”
Allison also touched on the idea that the divide on climate change might not always be specifically related to age. While older generations might be “responsible for the issues that are prevalent today,” they did attempt to help the planet.
“Younger generations seem more likely to engage in environmentally friendly activities and push for new environmental laws and policies. Older generations have put things in place to protect the environment, such as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency,” she wrote.
The EPA was created after the first Earth Day, organized in spring 1970, united the fight against “oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife,” according to EARTHDAY.ORG, an organization that works to create action on environmental issues across the globe.
“As time goes on, we are learning better ways to do things so the planet isn’t damaged even more for the next generations to come,” Allison wrote.
For Natasha Das, a third-year student at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), she found herself making less sustainable choices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of cooking meals, she ordered takeout, which comes in plastic. She said she was unable to clean her masks as often, causing her to use more single-use masks.
“For me, I’m really into individual lifestyle choices,” she said. It “makes it feel like we still have some amount of power.”
Change does not have to be difficult, she said.
“I’d say being mindful to realize how much plastic is in your day-to-day life or how many things you’re doing is actually unsustainable,” she said. “Because it’s only once you know your actual impact, can you start making changes. And then also realizing it’s not as hard. … So I didn’t think that I could compost in the dorms until I recently thought, ‘What if I just Google it?’”
Dashka Maslyukova also said that individual choices, when compounded, can create big-scale change.
“Individual actions, when they’re formed in small groups, can actually be more impactful than just your individual actions,” she said to VOA.
Maslyukova, a student at George Mason University in Virginia, is president of the Mason Environmental Justice Alliance (MEJA) and has worked with other groups, locally and across the U.S.
“A lot of our work in the past three to four years has been with the Mountain Valley Pipeline down in southwestern Virginia, and the fight that’s been going on,” Maslyukova said. “So we’ve held rallies on campus, we’ve called and phone-banked, and written postcards to the governor, and collaborated with the Appalachian Youth Climate Coalition.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is a natural gas pipeline to run from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia that is “approximately 92% complete,” according to the project’s website.
MEJA wants to stop the production of the MVP, saying it “will cut through waterways, mountains, indigenous lands, heighten the climate crisis with expanding the use of fossil fuels.”