When I was an undergraduate at Yale, I experienced a latent anxiety about climate change. But I did not act on this anxiety; this campus felt like its own neatly contained world and bringing climate change into daily conversations felt irrelevant, even impolite. It was as though I and everyone around me were living in a state of double consciousness: both aware and living as though we were not aware, making plans for a future that was preposterously unstable.
But almost as soon as I left Yale, this co-created illusion fell apart. After I graduated in 2015, I read book after book, article after article, all citing the world’s best climate scientists, and still felt I must be misunderstanding, overreacting or hysterical. I did not understand the silence all around me — even in the most liberal, climate science-accepting communities. No one seemed to talk about it or acknowledge the problem that undermined the premise of nearly everything we did.
I spent the year after graduation trying to understand climate science, but also trying to understand my own sense that discussing it remained a taboo. I still am. Being back in New Haven, I am confronted daily with the contrast between the narratives about my future that I received at Yale, and the way I spend my days now, trying to spread the truth that climate change stands to collapse human civilization within our lifetimes.
This truth, if we embrace it, gives our voices unique moral authority in this time. The adults in power today have gotten to live full long lives, have already held their children, maybe even grandchildren. Most of us have not, and many of us want to have the same chance.
After months of not knowivng how to grapple with this knowledge, I began working with a group called The Climate Mobilization, which is dedicated to ensuring the U.S. government launches a response to climate change actually commensurate with the current reality of the crisis.
Governments have waited so long to act that for a good chance of avoiding irreversible levels of warming, we must reach net zero emissions within the next decade. The kinds of gradual cuts that would leave us emitting into the middle of this century embraced by most politicians are no longer feasible.
TCM is a social movement startup that has largely worked behind the scenes to bring the idea of an emergency climate response into the political mainstream. They and their allies were responsible for the Democratic platform this year declaring that we are in a global-climate emergency and must respond at wartime speed, on a scale not seen since World War II.
On the heels of that success, TCM launched the Climate Year program (kind of like the Americorps of climate activism) in an effort to recruit skilled leaders and rapidly scale up our outreach and organizing operation. TCM has a comprehensive strategy to build a massive, unified social movement that will make sure leaders commence the kind of just climate mobilization we need — at the speed that we need it — within the next year.
Such a mobilization would require changing our economy and society on a speed and scale we have not done since we retooled our entire industrial and consumer economy during World War II. The good news is that it’s happened before. There’s no reason we can’t change everything again. We just need the will, and the will should be easy to find if we let ourselves feel what is truly at stake.
I am part of Climate Year’s inaugural class, repurposing the skills I learned working as a Managing Editor at this very paper. It’s not what I planned to do when I left Yale, but it gives me great clarity and a constant source of hope.
Student movements have changed history before and have already moved trillions of dollars in investments out of the fossil fuel industry. It seems important that we who are young and stand to live out our lives in a crumbling world fully embrace the truth of our situation, let it change the way we live and ultimately withdraw our consent from institutions and structures that do not dedicate themselves to helping us survive.
But if we do not acknowledge the truth of the climate emergency in our daily lives, we cannot even support one another as we wrestle with it, let alone act. Gestures as small as starting conversations and creating pockets of sanity and open discussion are important because they break us out of our individual units of anxiety and create the seeds for joyful, beautiful and collective resistance. And if you’re interested in starting such a conversation, my email is below.
Anya Grenier ’15 is a former managing editor for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.