Day 5: Action Plan for Eco-ambassadors Program
Ashna Swaroop, Middle School, Millburn, New Jersey.
Dvita Bhattacharya, Middle School, Millburn, New Jersey.
Today brought about the end of our week-long Climate Summit. It has been a truly amazing five days, and our session today was a fitting end to this experience. The theme for Day 5 was Climate Action. We asked ourselves, “How can we use what we have learned to make a difference?” and our inspiring speakers helped us answer this very question.
Our first event for today was a panel with several college students. They helped us understand how we could incorporate sustainable development into our high school and college careers, as well as our everyday lives. Our panelists included Sophia Assab (a student at Columbia university studying Economics and Sustainable Development), Charlotte Munson (studying Sustainable Development and Business management at Columbia), Jeremy Zimmerman (a senior in the dual degree program between Sciences Po and Columbia University, studying Political Humanities and Sustainable Development), David Yang (a sophomore at Columbia, planning on double majoring in Computer Science and Sustainable Development), and Isadora Muszkat (in the Dual Degree Program between Tel Aviv University and Columbia, pursuing a degree in Philosophy and another in Sustainable Development).
Each of our panelists outlined their own unique journeys to the study of sustainable development and the environment. Assab, for example, initially planned to study human rights, but felt the need to do more for the earth and the life on it; Munson used to be a professional ballet dancer until she ruptured her ankle at 22 and was forced to give it up. She decided to go back to school and found her passion for sustainability. Our panelists’ diverse, varying paths to this field of study helped highlight how all-encompassing the topic of sustainable development truly is. Somehow or the other, sustainable development is relevant to every subject and area of learning, a lesson all of our speakers touched upon. While each had different ideas to share with us, the common theme through their stories was how sustainability factored into each of their career paths. Munson gave examples of sustainable fashion and environmental engineering. At first glance, neither fashion nor engineering seems to have much to do with the environment. Yet there is always a way to combine sustainability and whatever your passion is. This only serves to once again prove just how relevant and important climate change and the environment are in our world today, as well as what a pressing issue they pose.
Our panelists also spoke about their work to help others and our planet. Yang and Zimmerman, for example, are part of an organization called Engineers without Border, and work to incorporate their passions for computer science and law into the work they do. Muszkat is helping develop activity kits for children in public schools to help them learn about sustainability. Munson worked on a project in India, where she tested the fluoride content in groundwater. And Assab is a part of a Harvard Think Tank working on a bill for environmental change that will be proposed to Congress. Each of these students has done inspiring work to help change the way things are and to make the world a slightly better place. Their determination and talent is an example of what we should work to live up to.
The last question our panelists answered was one that is of utmost importance, especially considering how unfair and dismal our world can seem today. The question we asked was “How do you stay hopeful when things look so bleak?”. Their responses were both insightful and powerful. Munson said that her source of hope lies in humanity’s ability to adapt and respond to challenges. She used the current COVID 19 pandemic as her example. If we, as a country, managed to completely change our lifestyles by quarantining and social distancing, there is at least some hope that we will be able to take the steps necessary to stop climate change. Zimmerman also pointed out how many young people are motivated to stop this issue even if they come from families who don’t believe in climate change. This is a topic that is too often politicized - and the younger generations seem to be able to cut through the din surrounding it and get to the core of the matter. The potential they hold is enough to give us hope even when it seems as though nothing is happening. And thus our panel came to an end, leaving us as the audience with many new ideas to think about and a renewed belief in our ability to overcome climate change.
Next, we met Jeneda and Clayson Benally, a powerhouse brother and sister duo who bring awareness to their culture through punk-rock music. They are part of the Navajo tribe, and started to sing and raise awareness when they realized that their tribe was dying out because of many terrible reasons and the history was being underrepresented. In Navajo traditions, singing and dancing are important in many things, even healing ceremonies. When they were fighting relocation from the place where their tribes have been for generations, that was then when they found their voice. As said by Mr. Benally, “Music, art, activism and advocacy are all intertwined”. As part of the Navajo tribe, they grew up learning to respect the Earth. Nothing was wasted. Growing up like this gave them an idea of how what happens to the Earth, happens to us.
Being asked to move did a number of things to Mr. and Ms. Benally. They had to move because there was coal where they lived, and the government wanted to use it. Even before this, their entire lives have been always sought out to justice and awareness. The coal that was in their backyard was being used in big cities, like Los Angeles, and yet they didn’t even have water and electricity. All of this was being taken away from them. Mr. Benally remembered when he was listening to his grandmother when she said that coal was the liver of the Earth, and forests were the hair. This might not appeal to the officials who wanted to take the coal, but it made sense. Your liver acts as a filter in your body, and the coal did that to water. Beneath all of that coal was an aquifer with pristine, naturally filtered water! This only shows how everything on the Earth is interconnected.
The Benallys also talked about what inspired them to write their music. As mentioned before, they use traditional songs and combine them with hopeful messages about the future. By the way, the traditional songs they use are social songs, not ceremonial songs, which are not to be shared. They were inspired by all the hippies who moved to the west coast and started singing rock music. Blues, folk, and rock n roll really motivated them to sing. Growing up, they were told that they could either be traditional and modern. Now, they identify as traditional, but they also have modern tools to show to others that “culture is cool”, and diversity is important.
Tradition was very important to the Benallys. As indegenious people, Ms. Benally says, they have lived with the Earth for so long, and they know to respect it. “Growing up with the foundation of understanding who I was guided the vision of who I am today”, she adds. Growing up, Mr. Benally endured racism. Once, he was burned by bullies in the locker room, just because of his culture. He was an outcast to his school, and playing punk rock was a place where outcasts banded. They began to play punk rock because it was a place where you could be you. In other words, it was liberating to them, and having that space growing up was so important.
In this summit, we have learned that COVID has done many good things for people. But for the Navajo, COVID has not been nearly as helpful. They’re struggling against COVID, mining, and lack of infrastructure all at the same time. The pandemic has shed light on the fact that they are in need of the basic infrastructure to support their people. And on top of that, many people in their tribe don’t have access to hot water or the internet, and kids have to drive to places with internet (sometimes more than an hour away). On the bright side, they do have community, culture, and the ability to live off of the land like their ancestors did, but that much is not going to cut it.
As a final message for kids, Ms. Benally said that they can make a difference and they should always remember that they should dream big and know what is in their head can be a possibility. Know that it’s okay to fail, because you get to learn from your mistakes. Know that you are not alone in making a difference and that you are loved. And most of all, know that you are the future, and the very breath of your ancestors' resilience. Together, we are a global community and we want you to succeed. Know that people will be there for you every step of the way.
And with that positive note, the amazing, inspirational, and motivating Climate Education Youth Summit ended.