Young San Diegans Speak Out About Climate Change

By Stephanie Corkran of SanDiego350, and these six young people of San Diego who were interviewed.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from the children” is a quote attributed to the iconic environmentalist David Brower. Isn’t it time that we listen to what the children have to say? After all, they will be the ones who will inherit an overheated planet with extreme weather events, including intense storms, floods, droughts, and sea level rise.

The big question is: Will the children will have their say in court? Juliana v. U.S. is a constitutional climate lawsuit filed by 21 youths, ages 11 to 22. Since climate change is the overarching issue of our times (and perhaps of all time for our species), Juliana v. U.S. may well become the “trial of the century”.

The Trump administration, along with the fossil fuel companies, have attempted various legal tactics to kill the lawsuit and repeatedly failed. On July 30, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of allowing the case to be heard. The trial was scheduled to start today, October 29th, however, ten days before the Supreme issued a temporary stay in response to a second petition by the government.

The children’s lawsuit asserts that the U.S. government, through its affirmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change, is depriving the youngest generation of the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. In addition, the government has a duty to protect essential public trust resources for future generations.

If successful, the children’s lawsuit would compel our government to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The scale of societal change needed necessitates that our government provides the infrastructure and funding to facilitate a rapid transition to a fossil-free economy.

What Young San Diegans Have to Say About Climate Change

As a volunteer for SanDiego350, I interviewed six young people to discover their views about climate change and the court case. I spoke with Meg, a 23-year-old college student from Rancho Penasquitos and El, a 17-year-old high school student from El Cajon. I also spoke with four younger children: Alex and Max from Escondido (both 12 years), Avery (11 years) from El Cajon, and Danica (10 years) from PB.

For readability, I have grouped their responses under each question I asked of them. Some of their responses were very similar;  these ones I have paraphrased and identified as a  “Consensus” response.

 What do you think of when you hear the words “climate change”?

Consensus: The environment and the weather. How people are polluting by burning oil and the earth is getting hotter.

“That it is getting hotter and the animals are dying, like polar bears dying due to melting ice. I am very sad about the polar bears and the Amazon.” (Alex)

“I think of the plants and animals being harmed by climate change; humans are being selfish.” (El)

 Do you think we (the government /adults) are doing enough to fight climate change?

“No one is doing enough, not even those who believe in climate change.  Not everyone is an activist or needs to be, but everyone needs to do something. Earth Day is not enough.” (El)

“Even worse we are going backward- reforms put in place were wiped out so that more coal and oil could be used.” (Alex)

“I do think of all the people that are trying to help, like my mom who volunteers for SanDiego350. So the lower ranks of people yes, but those in power no.” (Max)

If not – why do you think this is? What are the obstacles?

Consensus: For the people in our government climate change is not the priority. Our government and the world are dominated by corporations. People worldwide are causing climate change but only a small group of people are trying to change it. They cannot do it alone.

 “People get a lot of money from oil; they are not caring about the world but instead how much money they get from selling stuff that pollutes. This worries me.” (Danica)

Human nature and the fact we are driven by greed is a problem.” (Max)

What are some of the things you think we should be doing to fight climate change?

Consensus: Bring back reforms that were reversed and rejoin the Paris Climate Accords.

We need to teach climate change in schools at a young age. Educate.

“Try different angles to get the message out like posting videos on youtube, because a lot of people watch youtube.” (Max)

“Reduce plastic use by using reusable water bottles and have more water refilling stations.  Research the brands you are buying to use your purchasing power to effect change.” (Meg)

“Stop selling oil! Create something that replaces oil that does not pollute (electric vehicles, plant-based biofuel, solar, wind).” (Danica)

Are there things that you are personally doing to address climate change? 

Consensus: My career will be focussed on fighting climate change. I speak the truth to other kids and try to get them involved. When I hear people are misinformed I educate them.

“I told my mom we should not buy plastic, instead we should buy glass containers or use refillable containers for shampoo, etc.” (Danica)

I attend climate marches and rallies. I volunteer with SanDiego350 (Avery has volunteered since she was 7 years old).

What do you want to tell the judge hearing the children’s court case?

“Changing policies are the only way to save the planet and other nations are way ahead of us.” (Meg)

“Try to make people take better care of the earth.” (Avery)

“If the government tells you they are doing enough for climate change tell them to prove it, make them give evidence.” (Danica)

“Please – just look at the facts.” (Max)

Do you feel your rights are being violated by climate change inaction?

“Yes my rights are being violated, as we are in the midst of the 6th great extinction on this planet.  My generation will be the most affected by climate change and we don’t want continued fossil fuel extraction.” (Meg) 

“You are violating my rights because the planet will be worse for me after you die. We need to do this before civilization collapses. I and my family will have to live with this.” (Alex)

“The purpose of government is to protect and serve the people. They are not doing this when they ignore climate change.” (El)

What do you want to tell the kids/plaintiffs who filed this case?

Consensus: You’re my heroes. Thank you for standing up for my rights. In a time when many are apathetic, what you are doing is very powerful.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

“People should get educated. I try whenever possible to spread the message at school” (Meg)

“Government should find climate scientists to guide policy and make sure the public is informed. This needs to be a front and center issue.” (El)

“We need to pass laws to plant trees whenever one is cut down, because they give us air.”  (Alex)

Listen to the Children

The young people who participated in these interviews are well versed in the climate change catastrophe and how it is impacting our planet. They expressed feelings of worry and sadness about their future. As Meg stated, “To be blunt – climate change is the destruction of the earth. This is happening now and nothing is being done about it.”

As an individual, every decision you make going forward needs to further the chance of a livable planet for our grandchildren. On November 6th, we will have the opportunity to vote for leaders who respect the overwhelming evidence of climate science, are willing to use their political capital to transition the country to clean energy and a sustainable future, and to do so at warp speed. Let us heed Avery’s warning: “Humans are causing their own extinction. Do something about it before it is too late!” 

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on October 29, 2018.

About the Author:

Stephanie Corkran, MA, is an anthropologist who works in research at UCSD and a volunteer of SanDiego350. As a Coast Guard veteran, she previously enforced environmental law and responded to oil and hazardous material spills, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill. She supports a vision of social justice that considers the needs of all life, human and non-human.

 About the Interview Process:

The interviews (by phone or in person) were not transcribed verbatim but main themes were captured. For the younger interviewees there was some communication to ensure I understood what they meant to convey. Sometimes I suggested language substitutions that they agreed to, but the concepts are theirs alone.  I attempted to group related responses together to improve readability.

Note from Meg:

Meg recommends the following books to read: Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward Wilson, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.

‘Brown’s Last Chance’ Could Be Our Last Chance To Avert Climate Change Apocalypse

By Stephanie Corkran, SanDiego350

Credit: Mark Dixon / Wikimedia Commons

Brown’s Last Chance is a campaign demanding Governor Jerry Brown halt the development of unsustainable, polluting, fossil fuel infrastructure and begin an immediate phase-out of fossil fuels in California. If he’s unwilling to do so, a multitude of organizations (environmental, health, justice, community, consumer) are prepared to protest the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit.

This climate summit, held in San Francisco next month from September 12 to 14, was the brainchild of Gov. Brown. It was conceived of in response to President Trump withdrawing the United States from the international Paris Climate Accord. World leaders will be in attendance to continue the work of past international climate conferences to mitigate climate change. There will be numerous affiliate marches and rallies around the world (including San Diego’s Rise For Climate March) to demand a transformation to clean energy and real action on climate change.

Gov. Brown and California get a lot of credit for climate change action and certainly market that reputation. The problem is this state and its government during Governor Brown’s reign neglected fossil fuel production as a target for climate change mitigation. Oil and gas production is declining in California, but not fast enough in light of the severity of the climate change threat.

This is the last year the governor can serve. The idea of the campaign is to hit now, while media is focused on the conference and environmental issues, and when he is not running for reelection. Perhaps he will be less beholden now to special interests that favor fossil fuel production and buy influence with their campaign contributions.

Why the imperative to protest – why a call to action?

HYPOCRISY OF CONTINUED EXTRACTION

Nationwide, oil and gas extraction is increasing. California, with its accolades for leading the climate change fight in the U.S. is, in fact, a major contributor to that extraction.

Production of fossil fuels is inconsistent with the state’s mandates to address climate change. On the one hand, state lawmakers are currently considering SB 100 which would move up the schedule of clean energy goals — since interim targets of SB 350 have been met ahead of schedule. On the other hand, California is a major producer of fossil fuels. The state needs to stop fossil fuel extraction to avoid the worst risks of climate change worldwide. The consensus of scientists is that fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground.

Yet, California is ranked sixth in the nation for oil production. And because California has a lot of low-quality oil resources, it takes more extreme, energy-intensive methods to extract it. Indeed, the oil that California extracts is some of the dirtiest on the planet.

Inglewood Field, CA, 2014
Photo courtesy of FracTracker Alliance

The state was also recently ranked 13th in gas production. While California gas production has declined, it is still significant and uses the highly problematic hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) method of extraction.

According to the California Department of Conservation, there were 652 oil and gas wells stimulated using hydraulic fracturing in 2014. In 2015, California had 56,653 active oil and natural gas wells.

In addition, there was a 17 percent expansion of offshore oil wells in California state waters under existing leases from 2012 to 2016.

All this while the state suffers some of the worst health impacts of fossil fuel extraction and use. California is home to eight of 10 of the cities with the worst air quality in the nation. The poisoning of extreme amounts of water (a resource in short supply in this drought-ridden state) via the list of fracking chemicals used is also a hazard to health.

Rig in South LA, California
Photo by Brook Lenker, FracTracker Alliance, October 2017

EXISTENTIAL THREAT

Current extinction rates on earth are hundreds of times higher than normal evolutionary background rates. These extinction rates are directly related to our fossil fuel addiction and its impact on the climate. Entire ecosystems are collapsing and if too many links in the chain of biodiversity disappear, the systems that support human life go. We will follow the dinosaurs into oblivion – the difference being that dinosaurs did not do it to themselves.

There is a 5 percent chance of cataclysmic climate change by 2050, and a chance of our own extinction. While many will bet on the intellect and industriousness of our species to avoid or survive this threat (humans have gone down to as few as 1000 breeding individuals in our evolutionary past and come back with a vengeance), it will not be possible if we decimate the environment, if we destroy our home. We depend as a species on a functioning biosphere.

THREAT TO CIVILIZATION

The World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control have been preparing for the health risks of climate change that are already occurring and will escalate.

WHO website

The thin veneer of civilization will likely break down as food becomes scarce, infectious disease runs rampant and mass migrations of people — whose homelands will no longer support human life — spawn warfare and further destruction of the environment.

Social and political structures in place are insufficient to deal with current levels of disruption. We already see waves of refugees in Europe and the U.S. reacting to degraded environments from prolonged drought and competition for resources. And we can expect more. Both the U.S. and Europe are struggling to process the numbers of asylum seekers. Xenophobia and backlash against migrants are escalating worldwide.

What will happen when disruption is on the scale of a climatic apocalypse? We are an overpopulated speciesthat has outgrown the carrying capacity of the earth. Without our technology, mass communication and a worldwide distribution system of resources, we may revert to the savage.

EVIDENCE OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION/PARTY DYSFUNCTION

Campaign contributions from big oil impact whether our elected representatives will end fracking in this state. Gov. Brown has strong ties to fossil fuel companies and utilities that may have hampered his ability to take a stand on fossil fuel extraction in the state. Recently the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution stating they will no longer accept donations from fossil fuel companies.

“Fossil fuel corporations are drowning our democracy in a tidal wave of dark oily money; they have deceived the public about the impacts of climate change, fought the growth of clean renewable energy, and corrupted our political system,” the resolution reads. Individual Democratic Party candidates are not required to follow suit, but the example is set.

Now it is up to the people (us) to raise our voices to demand this same standard be upheld by candidates running for elected office and those already in elected office.

Where do you stand?

There is no neutral position. To do nothing is aiding the perpetrators of climate destruction. Inaction means you are siding with the polluters who are sentencing all life on this planet to extreme suffering.

Do something — and do it now! Join others who are willing to fight for climate justice and be part of the solution. The sacrifices we all must make will seem trivial if we are successful in saving our beautiful home and her inhabitants.

If you intend to fight for life, attend the September 8th Rise for Climate March, San Diego, contact Gov. Brown, and sign Brown’s Last Chance Petition.

Originally published by the San Diego Free Press on August 17th, 2018.

About the Author

Stephanie Corkran, MA, is an anthropologist who works in medical research at UCSD and a volunteer of SanDiego350. She is a Coast Guard veteran who enforced environmental law and responded to oil and hazardous material spills, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill. She supports a vision of social justice that considers the needs of all life, human and non-human.

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Credit: slworking2 / Flickr

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