By: Emma Galbraith
As I type this, I am sweating. I went to a die-in by the Extinction Rebellion chapter in my city this afternoon on a pedestrian bridge, where all the participants laid down in the middle of the path under the bright sun to symbolize dying from climate disaster.
At this die-in, an older couple, a man and a woman, stopped on the bridge and asked one of the organizers, “Why climate action?” If we’re all going to die, why fight? Someone else gestured to the railing and yelled out “Then jump!”, as in to say “why not succumb to one death instead of refusing to fight another?” The man laughed jovially and kept walking. I wish he could have seen my face and known my age and started thinking about the opportunities he would have missed if climate change knocked on his door when he was a few decades younger, or that he could have traveled in that instant to any place in the world that is being visually affected by climate change so he could see it with his own eyes. We place so much importance on what we can see, and yet it is so easy to become blinded.
It is so easy to believe that what we cannot see is not there, and yet it is there. Why do we rely on what we personally see so much?
Biologically, for survival, I suppose. But we’ve learned by now that what we do for short-term survival, or for what we believe we need for survival, can be the long-term killer. And sometimes that includes blinding ourselves.
Denial of climate change. Denial of hope. Because the truth is frightening and because it’s easy to go mad if you don’t believe you have a future.
I think this fear shares a root with that which drives so many Asian parents in the US to push their children to succeed. That fear that their children won’t have a future because of something they cannot control: a factor whose importance was decided on centuries before we started kindergarten. And as a result we are pushed to be better, to be the best, to claw our way to “victory” on a playing field that has never been even.
Perhaps that is why this climate action movement feels so familiar.
We — by whom I mean young people and minors especially — should not have to take up the mantle of protector for our unborn descendants. We should not have to take the responsibility to level the playing field of survival for the most climatically vulnerable people among us before climate change levels the rest of our civilization.
But we have no other choice.
And the truth is, I come from a place of enough privilege where I could still even say that it should not be my responsibility, where I could be saying that climate change is coming, not that it is here, if I was not looking beyond what my own eyes personally see.
But the truth is there. Puerto Rico.
The Maldives. England.
The Midwest. Houston. New Orleans. Alaska.
I’m only listing a teaspoonful of places that have been devastated by a system of
fossil-fuel-funded climate inaction, and these are only a few places in the tiny percentage of areas destroyed or damaged by climate change that is covered by the media I consume.
In Shanghai and other cities, we have the smog warnings that inform the public when the air is too dangerous to breathe.
We cannot normalize a world in which it is not safe to go outside.
We cannot normalize a world in which a national leader demands a sea wall be built around his golf course and denies the existence of climate change at once.
We cannot stay silent. We cannot stay complacent, whether through uneducation or fear or feelings of helplessness. Now that the resources to address all three are accessible, it is high time we overcome them. One of the climate action community’s most powerful properties is that we all recognize the mental taxation of facing survivalism, and we constantly uplift and support each other through it without fail.
We, whether young, old, white, of color, male, female, in between, and otherwise, each have a responsibility to ourselves, our peers, our planetmates with whom we share our Earth, our descendants, and our parents — who have sacrificed every day to get us to where we are now — to educate ourselves.
To start walking out of this system, especially when it benefits some in the short term at the expense of other people, other species, and our collective home in the past, the present, and the future.
To start running — not away from the fear of our extinction, but towards the promise of our survival.
The only remaining choice is yours — which direction do you run?
It’s a leap of faith, believing that you have the power to steer us to survival. One jump into action, but not without a massive community to catch you.
Will you take that leap with us? Will you jump?
Emma Galbraith (唐歌) is an activist, actor, writer, musician, and student in Austin, Texas. She works as a campus ambassador for Youth Strike 4 Climate, manages the Instagram accounts of 350 Austin (@350austin) and Sunrise Austin (@sunriseatx), and writes articles about her experience as a Chinese-American young woman in the United States. She has spoken about climate action on KOOP Radio and for Branch Out Zine, a publication that raises money to plant carbon-sequestering trees and campaigns for a carbon-neutral society. She also advocates for more diverse Asian representation in media and will star in Inbetween Girl (Instagram: @inbetweengirlfilm), an indie feature film, in 2020. Her favorite comfort food is warm mantou.