The climate crisis is one of the defining issues of our time. With smartphones and computers, many of us have access to an infinite amount of information on the topic. We hear about melting ice caps, wildfires, deadly hurricanes, and the potential for a climate catastrophe. All this information creates anxiety and leaves many wondering: ‘How screwed are we?’
“The research shows that if we continue on the trajectory that we are currently on, we’re pretty damn screwed,” said Louise Harm, who teaches AP Environmental Science at Berkeley High School (BHS). Here’s a bit of science. Right now, we have warmed the planet about 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified 1.5 degrees Celsius as the highest increase in warming before there is a significant chance of disastrous consequences. To avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, they stated that we must cut our emissions by about half within the next ten years. Doing this would require massive changes to virtually every aspect of society.
Robin Van der Vegt teaches history in Berkeley International High School (BIHS). “Any stuff that we’re doing is gradual at best,” she said. “And so it seems like maybe we may reduce some emissions, but we’re not fundamentally altering our course.”
“We have to very quickly come together and address the problem,” said Ethnic Studies teacher Sharif Musaji. “Honestly, if we don’t do that, we are screwed — and we’re not doing it.”
It’s true that most world leaders seem incapable of actually changing their mindsets and policies enough to prevent disaster. Even the Paris Agreement, which has been hailed as the strongest global climate plan ever made, is critiqued by many scientists as not enough to prevent catastrophic warming.
Assume we do not reduce our carbon emissions by half in the next ten years. What will that future look like? First, we must acknowledge that climate change is already irreversible. For as long as we live, the planet won’t be getting any cooler. But the hotter it gets, the worse things get. Flooding, hurricanes, heat waves, wildfires, and droughts are expected to become much worse and much more frequent. This amount of devastation will likely lead to famine and mass displacement. Climate migration has already begun happening, with the Urban Institute estimating that over 1.2 million Americans left their homes for climate-related reasons in 2018. In a 2020 report from the Institute for Economics & Peace, it was projected that by 2050, over one billion people could become climate refugees. As resources become scarcer and many places become unlivable, mass unrest and violent conflict will likely result.
Also, it’s crucial to recognize that climate change exacerbates the inequalities of our societies, affecting Black and brown people disproportionately. This can be seen in the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth, which has a poverty rate of 43 percent, was given limited assistance from the US, and about three thousand people died. While the top 1 percent may be able to protect themselves from disasters such as that one, low-income communities will always bear the brunt of the impact. If we don’t change drastically, it’s nearly impossible that a stable and just society would be able to function.
“It’s so hard to envision that future,” said BIHS Film teacher Amanda Marini. “Just how post-apocalyptic it feels and how suddenly it’s not a movie, but it’s our reality. It’s really hard to comprehend that. I think that’s another reason why people don’t deal with it.”
Many BHS students are trying to prevent this from happening. Last year in March, thousands of Bay Area kids left school and headed into San Francisco for a youth climate march. There were signs and chants and demands, but almost no action has been taken from our leaders. “It’s so soul crushing,” said BIHS junior Nate Kaplan. “It’s pretty hard to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do all this stuff and apply myself and try and help save the world,’ … ‘cause I feel like real people can’t really do anything,” Kaplan explained. This dread and despair is very real among members of Generation Z.
“Normal people don’t even have the power right now,” said Academic Choice (AC) junior Creg Brown Lawyer. “I feel like it’s up to the big corporations, the factories, and the governments. … I’m trying to be 60 years old and breathing. I just want to live.”
“I feel like it’s a fear that only young people can really understand and experience because this is our life.”Miumi Shipon, BHS junior
“I feel like it’s a fear that only young people can really understand and experience because this is our life,” said AC junior Miumi Shipon. “If you want a family, your children are at stake.”
Shipon’s sentiment was echoed by other students. “It just makes me want to hide under my bed,” said AC sophomore Julia Ebrahimi. “But it will happen whether you like it or not. Denying it might be more comfortable in the moment, but you will regret that in the future.”
Climate change denial doesn’t always mean a lack of belief in the science. Often, it’s being aware of the issue while simultaneously choosing not to think about it. The idea of our ecosystems collapsing and so many people dying can be too awful to process at times. And in order to face this problem, we need a massive shift in the way we live our lives and run our societies. Is it too much to ask? Are we just totally screwed?
“I feel like we could sit back and say, ‘We’re screwed. There’s no hope. Let me just continue on with my life how I am,’ ” said Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) teacher Claudia Gonzalez. “But I think that that’s sort of selfish, right?”
“I think that if enough people are angry, then that can really cause some change because power comes in numbers,” said Shipon.
Despite the severity of the issue, many of us at BHS continue to maintain strength and positivity.
“I think we are in a place where I don’t want to believe that it’s a hopeless situation,” said BHS Principal Juan Raygoza. “Because I think human beings, when we commit ourselves to doing better and we commit ourselves to creating a better world, we can make things happen.” The climate crisis is terrifying, but the only way to change it is by taking action. Student groups at BHS are currently leading the way towards a livable future, and anyone can get involved with saving humanity and creating a society that is just and humane for everyone.