We didn’t start the fire
February 4, 2022
It was always burning since the world’s been turning” or so the Billy Joel song goes. Our world is burning up, and if we don’t do anything about it, we will be in for a real fire. Environmental problems have slowly worsened through each generation, so how does each age group feel about the issue? And, most importantly, what can be done to help?
Who hasn’t heard of climate change? Or the massive waste dumps into the ocean, trash heaps a mile high, uncontrollable wildfires, air pollution, extreme food waste, fossil fuel overuse–
Wow. That’s a lot, right?
And it’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Though, by the sound of it, the world will be losing those, too.
Many rightly place blame on humans for being the cause of such disastrous environmental ruin. But within the population, the problem is often pinned on older generations.
“Back then, the economy was heavily based on the coal mine,” yearbook, civics, and AP Government teacher Amy Cooke said. “People’s jobs and lives depended on environmental destruction of some kind.”
Now, fast forward a few decades, and America is stuck in the same economic situation, still relying on the now-dwindling resources that chip away at the ecosystem. The problem is, the deadline for action has been surpassed several times over.
“I worry because I think we should have taken action five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago,” AP Environmental Science teacher Dr. Erin Stephens said. “We need to take action today.”
Yet all the issues stated in the beginning are still here and continually getting worse as our government fails to take action.
“The policymakers are all older, and they don’t see the sense of urgency,” Cooke said. “Or they see it’s infinitely more complicated and that there are economic implications to reducing factory emissions. That’s what it often boils down to: money.”
It’s easy to push off environmental concerns when the supposed big, permanent impact of climate change is likely going to happen after your death.
But issues become all the more pressing when every other day there’s a new article talking about how the world will end before the majority of Generation Z hits their late thirties.
“I identify with your generation because I’ve been worried about the environment for a long time,” Stephens said. “I often question, ‘Why can’t we do something? And why aren’t we doing more?’”
I often question, Why can’t we do something? And why aren’t we doing more?”
— Erin Stephens, science teacher
As our generation rises up to take the Millennials’ place, the pressure to solve the problems they left behind sits on our shoulders. While this is a massive undertaking, our generation’s passion brings hope for the future.
“Our generation realizes the significance of climate change more than before,” freshman Olivia Hill said. “The previous generations’ ignorance forces us to bring the heat.”
Through protests and rallies, we are bringing awareness to the need for action. Our generation refuses to be ignored by people in power, with individuals such as Greta Thunberg leading the way. But this process is easier said than done.
“Our generation is raising all the concern, but the adults simply don’t listen. When we aren’t supported by our adult counterparts, it’s extremely frustrating and hard to take any action,” junior Anjali Dixit said.
While difficult, the older generations didn’t have the same access to education as us. Since the day we’ve been given a phone, accessibility to information has been at our fingertips. From social media to news sources, teenagers in this day and age have experienced greater exposure to environmental information than ever before.
“We’ve grown up being taught about climate change in the classroom, on the news, and through our Instagram feeds. Our generation actually believes the facts,” junior Nicole Treece said.
Social media may not always be the most reliable source, but it gives a background for people to start researching their own facts. Apps such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter help spur inspiration, awareness, and passion for world problems with just a click of a button.
“Through social media, anyone can care about climate change,” freshman Olivia Hill said. “Teenagers can see their peers’ concern and become involved.”
However, there’s a big difference between caring about the environment and actually acting. Many teenagers have no issue declaring climate change a problem, but they often don’t go out onto the streets or take the initiative to change.
“People get really scared because they focus on how massive the problem is. We put climate change on the back burner instead of starting now,” Treece said.
As teenagers, we often feel like we are shouting at a deaf wall, fighting to be heard but too often ignored. Adults regularly brush our generation off, simply because of our age and lack of global experience. But this generation refuses to give up. No matter age or experience, there are still things people can do to live sustainably and build a better future.
What can be done
While climate change can seem overwhelming at times, focusing on each individual impact is the first step. One thing everyone seems to agree on: Liberty isn’t doing the best job at encouraging its students and staff to act sustainably.
“Liberty needs to do more. We should constantly be asking, ‘What’s next?’ We should be considering the six-month plan, one-year plan, five-year plan, and even ten-year plan,” Stephens said.
While some of the biggest environmental issues—air pollution, fossil fuels, etc.—might seem out of reach for people in high school to tackle, there are still attainable eco-friendly options students can focus on. Many of these options start small.
“It only takes one individual to make the change,” Hill said. “I recycle, compost, and try to use less plastic.”
One of the biggest issues is food waste. In the United States alone, food waste makes up 30-40% of the total food supply. In context, that’s millions of tons of food per year. This problem is especially a concern at Liberty.
“Our generation has a consumer attitude. In the cafeteria, I see students get free lunch or bring food and then not eat it. It’s creating a massive amount of food waste,” said Dixit.
Instead of wasting our food, we need to put it to use. When you have leftovers, you can compost them. Taking a minute to sort your trash at lunch instead of simply tossing everything into the black trash bins seems simple but is often overlooked. This extra step could significantly reduce the amount of waste Liberty produces.
Helping the environment will require everyone to come together. Although it is crucial that individuals change their habits to be more sustainable, the government needs to play a role in creating a better, more environmentally friendly future.
“Corporations consume resources and produce waste at a much quicker and larger rate than we do,” senior Amira Turner said. “If everyone lived sustainably but corporations continued to be unrestricted, we would still be in the same place.”
To bring about this change, students can start writing letters and petitions. Email addresses to government officials at the state and federal levels can easily be found online. Slowly but surely, our generation can bring change through political action.
“Politicians often consider money as more important than the environment. But while the environment is expensive, it’s important,” Stephens said. “For your generation, some things are worth the cost.”
As we look back at the past generations, one message becomes clear: we cannot fail to act. Our environment must be a priority to everyone, from each individual to every large corporation. While we didn’t start the fire, as Billy Joel may say, one thing is certain: this generation must be the one to extinguish it.