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The kids aren’t alright: Gen-Z on dealing with wildfires and climate change

Dilan Gohill, 15, goes hiking about twice a month just five minutes from his home. But in the last few weeks, his usual hiking ground has changed drastically.

“There are a lot of burn scars near me,” the LA teen said. “There is just this huge burned area of land.” The scars, patches of charred land, are a constant reminder of the inferno blazing too close to home. 

Burn scars, red and black skies, air that smells like smoke – the west coast wildfires have created scenes much reminiscent of apocalyptic Hollywood movies. Despite the fear many are feeling, teens and young adults aren’t giving up hope for creating a better future. 

Oregon, Washington, and California have been battling wildfires for at least four long weeks. While the states are known to have wildfire seasons, these fires have been different.

“The reality is that the mega-fires that we’re experiencing come from these megadroughts that we’ve experienced,” said Gov. Newsom of California during an impassioned press conference. As droughts, related to climate change, are getting worse, forest fires will also continue to increase in intensity.  

Climate change is something that Dilan Gohill is aware of on a daily basis. He is one of the core organizers of Extinction Rebellion Youth LA, the youth division of the climate activism group.

Biden’s climate plan isn’t as radical or progressive as we need it to be but it’s a step forward,” Gohill, who hopes to go into politics after high school, told Kulture Hub about the 2020 election.

He stressed the importance of the upcoming election in regard to climate change.

“It’s crazy to think how crucial these next years will be. If we have four more years of President Trump we will definitely face irreversible climate change.” 

Dilan Gohill, 15

President Trump, who visited California on September 14th, had insisted that poor forest management was the main cause of the fires. His agenda for ’21 has yet to include climate issues and his fiscal budget for the coming year involves massive cuts to various environmental initiatives.

During Trump’s visit, scientists urged him to consider climate change. Trump’s response that “it’ll get colder, you just watch,” didn’t instill much confidence. 

This is in direct opposition to science-backed numbers. According to a report by NASA, temperatures are predicted to rise in the coming years with an expected average temperature increase of 4.5 Fahrenheit by the year 2100.

This might seem insignificant but the change in temperature will increase extreme weather conditions such as droughts, wildfires, and tropical storms. Specifically for the US, NASA predicts declining water supplies, compromised infrastructures and ecosystems, and worsening air quality resulting in various health risks. 

The teens living in fire-ravaged California don’t believe Trump’s message of temperatures dropping and believe even less in waiting it out. “I’m really anxious about the climate crisis. I really want to do something,” said 17-year-old Sara Kahn, who’s also involved in Extinction Rebellion Youth LA.

“It’s hard for me to rationalize sitting down and doing five hours of homework when I know there’s all this other better stuff that I could be doing.” 

Sara Kahn, 17

Kahn emphasized how important the upcoming election will be for climate issues. “I think that what Trump has done (…) is so dangerous for this country and so I definitely think that electing Joe Biden is one of the biggest steps that we as a community focused on climate change should be working towards.”

She acknowledged that one political leader won’t be the final solution but thinks that, “to have a leader who genuinely has a plan and who listens to science is really what we need right now.”

Neeta Thadani, a 22-year-old drama major at NYU, has grown up in California and has only seen the fires get worse each year. While Thadani isn’t confident in either presidential candidates, she recognizes that the upcoming election is critical in solving climate issues.

“Biden’s policies are fine. They’re middle of the road and that will get us on some track.” Contrary to Trump, Biden has proposed various measures that will hopefully help offset climate change.

“I hate that we have to ‘push him left’ but obviously his policies are so much better than Trump’s that we just have to,” Thadani said.

The significance of the election is echoed by José Hurtado, 20, located in the San Diego area.

“I feel like this is the most important election I’ve been a part of personally.”

José Hurtado, 20

Besides voting, Hurtado also hopes to spread awareness of climate change through his art. “I truly believe that art has the potential to open doors to different perspectives that others didn’t think possible.” He hopes that people will see his plays and be inspired to research the climate crisis. 

Despite fear and anxiety about the upcoming election and the current climate crisis, none of the young adults have given up on their future. “My hope is that we can come together and actually solve the climate crisis rather than using it as a political weapon,” said Kahn.

Gohill hopes to continue making an impact, so his future hikes won’t be scattered with burn scars. “I hope to graduate high school, go to college, and get a job somewhere where I can hopefully make my voice heard.”

He stops, before adding: “I hope we can stop climate change before it becomes irreversible.”