“We All Have the Potential to Be Activists”—A Reflection by Anna Xie

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Heather Sutkus, a youth in the community of Saint Mark's and member of cathedral's Creation Care Ministry, wanted to share this essay written by her friend and classmate Anna Xie. Heather writes, “I chose Anna’s article because I was struck by how her experience of childhood was dramatically different from my own. Whereas I grew up unaware of the toll my lifestyle had on the environment, Anna had to live with the consequences every day.”

"We all have the potential to be activists."

by Anna Xie

“Don’t run,” my teachers told me, “Play walking soccer.” Or sometimes, “We have indoor recess.” Why? Because it was unhealthy for us to breathe. I spent the first 12 years of my life in Shanghai and Beijing, where the air quality made headlines around the world. Words like “beyond index” and “red alert” were frequently used.

In first grade, I had an assignment to go outside every night and record what I saw in the sky. But almost every night, I couldn’t see anything. I would write “too [sic] pollootd”. Six-year-olds should not have polluted in their daily vocabulary.

My name is Anna, I’m 16 years old, and I am a climate activist. I used to think pollution was just the way things were. That it’s normal to have air purifiers in every room. It’s common to get lingering sore throats when adjusting to polluted air. Of course, everyone has the air quality app right next to the weather one. Some places had it bad, like Beijing, and others had it better, like Seattle, where my family lived during the summer. The clean, crisp air in Seattle was a buffer. I believed everything was under control. I knew about the increasing threat of climate change, but it couldn’t possibly affect me. Besides, adults were on it.

But they aren’t. With climate change being the single largest threat to humankind and the World Health Organization’s projected 250,000+ climate-related deaths between 2030 and 2050, why isn’t everyone freaking out?

It’s time for sweeping, nationwide change and as youth, we need to be part of it. Our home and our dreams are at stake. My generation’s future does not extend beyond 2050. Babies born today will hardly be 30. Us young people are the largest stakeholders of all.

The horrifying thing is that we have solutions to solve the climate crisis. The tools are in our hands, but we just aren’t using them.

In 2019, I finally had enough. In Seattle, where I live full-time now, pollution is clouding the view of Mount Rainier and temperatures are climbing to record highs. Worldwide, this is only the beginning. It was time to do something. Not just for myself, but for people who aren’t as fortunate as I was to be able to move away from the pollution. I ended up joining my school’s environmental club, and after having a great experience there, I decided to go a step further and join an environmental organization. Naturally, I turned to Google, and looked up “environmental organizations to join.”

That search led me on a path to join Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonpartisan environmental organization advocating for national policies to combat climate change. It has been one of the most inspiring and educating decisions I have ever made. Through CCL, experienced members coached me on lobbying Congress and members of our local state legislature for the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a bipartisan, market-based solution to lower emissions. Together with youth from around the state, I have organized local community events to bring even more youth into the climate movement. Because of CCL, I’ve met so many passionate climate activists, adults and youth.

The problem for youth is that many don’t think we can create change, but we can and we have. Thousands of youth-led climate movements around the world are gaining momentum. In September 2019, millions of young people held the largest ever global climate demonstration. Seeing people accomplish something amazing like that makes me optimistic and hopeful for the future.

However, we can’t do this on our own. Youth have the power to lift a movement up, but we need everyone to create lasting positive change. Everyone brings individual talents and assets to the climate movement. 

After starting a school bottled water ban campaign, it surprised me that discussion was taking place simply because I had an idea and said something about it. Imagine if today, we all spoke up for our home and our futures. We all have the potential to be activists. It just takes that one step. Wouldn’t it be something?

Anna Xie is a 16-year-old student at Mercer Island High School. 

Photo from the Climate Strike in London via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY 2.0

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