Dixie Fire - image: National Interagency Fire Center, cc 2.0


For most of us, climate change used to feel like something far removed from our everyday lives. But recently, back-to-back disasters due to climate change have brought anxiety and grief close to home.

Here in Reno, Nevada, we endured air pollution due to smoke from the Dixie and Caldor Fires, resulting in school closures because the air was too hazardous. High school sports were canceled, so no one got a full season. It left me wondering what the future of my education will look like and wondering when the next climate change fueled disaster will strike. 

As a high school student in Northern Nevada, an area with a beautiful but delicate ecosystem, it makes me wonder what my life will look like in the future. I always thought I would stay here for college, which is quickly approaching, but it would mean enduring four more brutal smoke seasons. I thought I wanted to live here as an adult to be close to my family, but they are already discussing moving somewhere that’s not smoky. I decided not to spring for a ski pass this season, since there probably won’t be enough snow. I am realizing that a future in Reno of hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities probably isn’t very realistic anymore. 

I’m frustrated because it feels like the adults and lawmakers around me don’t care about the future. Most of them will be dead, and my peers and I, as well as our future families, will suffer the consequences.

According to a recent survey, with responses from 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 across 10 countries, “many of those questioned perceive that they have no future, that humanity is doomed, and that governments are failing to respond adequately.”

We’re not the only ones struggling with the impacts and tough emotions of climate disasters. Over the summer, we also saw the vibrant, much-loved cities of New Orleans and New York impacted by Hurricane Ida. 

We’ve read with heartbreak about more than 80 people who lost their lives in Hurricane Ida. We’ve contemplated with unease how the infrastructure of major cities has failed in the face of record precipitation. In the West, our firefighters battled a blaze to protect California’s wildlife, including the amazing Lake Tahoe ecosystem. These alarming scenes weigh heavily on hearts across the nation. 

It’s no wonder that, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, more than six in 10 Americans (63%) now believe climate change is currently affecting their local community. A recent survey by the UK’s Bath University also found that nearly 60% of young people say they are very worried or extremely worried about climate change. 

When our future is threatened at this scale, how can we respond? How can we constructively counter the anxiety and grief that our world is on a disastrous path? 

“In a world that seems increasingly out of control, we are desperate for hope: real hope, a hope that acknowledges the full magnitude of the challenge we face and the very imminent risk of failure,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote recently in Time. “Real hope also offers a chance of a more vibrant future; a glimpse, however distant, of something better than what we have today, not worse. Where can we find such hope? We find it in action.”

Here in Reno, a group of volunteers share that philosophy. We turn climate anxiety into action by advocating for federal legislation that would drastically lower emissions and limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Members of the Reno/Sparks chapter of the nonpartisan, grassroots organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby meet regularly with the offices of Sens. Cortez Masto and Rosen, and Congressman Amodei. We work to show our elected leaders that bold action on climate change is not only needed but popular.

Since August, we have joined thousands of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers nationwide to help generate 54,000 emails and phone calls to the Senate urging for a price on carbon to be included in the budget reconciliation package. 

I myself have been a climate activist for five years, including participating in rallies, lobbying for bipartisan climate action in front of a Congressional panel in Washington, D.C, and contacting lawmakers through phone calls and letters.

Our efforts are not just a balm for our climate anxiety — they are making a real impact. In early September, news broke that the Senate Finance Committee is discussing putting a price on carbon emissions. This powerful climate solution would boost the economy, unleash affordable clean energy, save lives with better air quality, and give low-and middle-income families a boost via a monthly carbon cashback check. Suddenly things seem more hopeful.

As humans, it’s natural to fear change, but our world is already changing. We can choose to allow climate change to keep happening to us, or we can choose to be part of the solution.

Grieving for what we’ve lost and fearing when the next storm or wildfire will strike are normal reactions to the time we are living through, but our actions right now can have powerful consequences. 

As climate activist Greta Thunberg has stated, “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.”

Carrie DeBarger is a high schooler in Reno, Nevada, who loves hiking, camping, and doing anything outdoors with her dog. She spends most of her time working as the coordinator for the local branch of a non-profit called Red Equity and tries to get involved in activism wherever she can, including volunteering for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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