The alarm on climate change has been going off for a while but the human species has kept hitting snooze. Sometimes we need a wake-up call.
For me, the biggest and most painful reminder of our changing climate is the smoke I have become accustomed to seeing and breathing each summer in Victoria; that’s when the noticeable impacts of climate change hit close to home. But this September the alarm was loud and blaring. No one can deny how apocalyptic the lack of blue sky and smell of burning felt.
For many of us who live in Victoria, the annual summer smoke that lingers for a week may be the only time that we see firsthand the effects of climate change in a dramatic way. September’s smoke was coming from devastating wildfires in nearby Washington, Oregon and California that killed more than 30 people and destroyed thousands of homes. We are extremely fortunate to live in a place where, in 2020, the biggest direct impact climate change has on our lives is that outdoor activities and sports at SMUS are cancelled for a week. The same cannot be said for millions of others around the world who face daily reminders of climate change. Our privilege that comes with living in such a special place in the world means we cannot become complacent in the fight against climate change.
The smoke took an emotional toll on me and it was not just the greyness of my surroundings; it was that constant reminder that the world is quite literally burning. North America’s West Coast was enveloped in smoke from deadly wildfires; this was no local problem. When environmental disasters happen around the world they always make me imagine what it would be like if it would happen here. I see images of the fires in Oregon, in Australia and in northern British Columbia, I see the deadly oil spilling out of a ship run aground right by the beaches of Mauritius, I see homes that were ripped apart by hurricanes, and I think of that happening in my surroundings.
It’s Cool to be Green
From a young age I’ve been fortunate to explore the beautiful area I live in. Although I have only travelled to a few other places, there is no beating BC’s natural beauty; we are “Beautiful British Columbia,” after all. I take great pride in our province’s mountains, lakes, beaches and everything in between.
I come from an outdoorsy family and have had the fortune to participate in SMUS’s Outdoor Leadership Program. Through outdoor education at SMUS I have rock-climbed in Skaha Bluffs, kayaked through the Gulf Islands, surfed in Tofino, and hiked through and gone on a winter camp in Strathcona Provincial Park. Each one of these trips exposed me to a different beautiful area of my province. These trips have been part of my growing up and part of my education, which is why I feel an emotional attachment to the breathtaking piece of our planet I get to call home. And it’s why I want to protect it.
I am proud to be a member of the Class of 2021 for many reasons. Most notably, I am proud to be part of this grad class because we were the grade that came together with a mission for sustainability. We were blessed to have leaders in our peer group who were shocked by the state of our school’s sustainability practices and rallied the rest of the grade to come together to make a difference. My classmates’ passions have created a culture in my grade that is spreading to the rest of the school about genuinely caring for the environment: it is ‘cool’ to be green, it is cool to ride your bike, it is cool to grow your own veggies and pack them in reusable containers for your lunch. It is cool to join the Green Team; new members are always welcome!
‘Let Sustainability Guide Us’
As important as our small actions are at school and home, it is crucial in the battle against climate change that substantive societal changes are made to protect the planet.
To my fellow students: we truly are the future. We must engage with our democracy to see these changes. Write and call your elected representatives, protest, volunteer for political parties, get educated and spread awareness; these are all concrete ways that change can be made. As we all go our separate ways upon leaving SMUS, whether it be this coming June or in a few years when you graduate, let sustainability be something that guides us. Hopefully we all find ourselves in universities that have already committed to sustainability. If they haven’t, I urge you to step up and make the difference. If you are passionate about sustainability, let that guide you in your education and career choices. And when that first election comes after your 18th birthday: vote and continue to vote at every opportunity! If we all show up with sustainability as a priority, we will have governments that pass policies that prioritize our Earth.
As I write this, I am looking out of my window to a blue sky; some seagulls just flew by. We may no longer be able to see the smoke or hear the climate change alarm in Victoria but do not be fooled; action needs to be urgent. Sea ice and glaciers are melting at shocking rates, the 2010 oil spill is still harming wildlife off the Gulf of Mexico, and at least 15,000 species are threatened with extinction.
For now, the alarm may not be going off right in front of us but it cannot be ignored. This is our wake-up call. Do not be complacent.