The children of climate change

Illustration by Kaylyn Dunn

With the recent increase of youth involvement in climate action, Flagstaff's youth are no exception to standing up to older generations and politicians for the sake of their future.

For decades, scientists have been pressing the issue of climate change upon the public and the governing bodies of the world. Numerous reports from the National Climate Assessment and other resources present that climate change has only worsened as a global dilemma.

However, Flagstaff residents and youth say they hope to show that efforts, even within a small town, have the potential to make a difference.

A nationwide school walkout occurred Sept. 20 to protest climate change on the front lawn of Flagstaff City Hall. This walkout happened not only in Flagstaff schools, but in schools in over 156 countries across the globe.

People of all ages participated to support the planet and let their voices be heard. Even preschool classes were walked to City Hall by their teachers and parents. By mid-morning, participants said the city hall front lawn was completely filled by masses of passionate students and adults, making it almost impossible for local lawmakers to make their way inside the building.

Maayan Cohen, a senior at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, said her involvement with her high school’s environmental coalition has shown her some of the grave problems facing the planet, including climate change. Cohen decided the walkout was an important step in getting local and world leaders’ attention.

“I think our education is very valuable, but we can’t use our education if we don’t have a planet to live on,” Cohen said.

Ariah Hanna, a student at Flagstaff High School, participated in the walkout because she said finding a solution to global climate change is something she is very passionate about.

“This is our Earth," Hanna said. "We need to get our priorities straight and realize that this is our home that we are destroying."

Junior environmental studies major Sarah Pytleski said while learning about climate issues is important, it can oftentimes be upsetting. Pytleski said the topic can put a dark cloud over her classmates, professors and her overall field of study.

“As an environmental student, it’s so depressing to go into class every day and hear your professor talk about the coral reefs dying, the glaciers melting and all that," Pytleski said. "So coming out here and being a part of this change ⁠— it’s empowering.”

Without action, studying climate change would be far more depressing as action fuels hope for improvement, Pytleski said. The fact that so many of the world's youths are taking action gives her hope for the future.

Sophomore environmental studies major Tyrrell Tapaha agreed with Pytleski and said the climate change efforts that are currently being put forth by youth have the potential to make changes in global government policies.

“It’s a matter of doing rather than sitting back and expecting something to happen," Tapaha said. "If we’re not here advocating for what we feel is right then what is democracy?”

The young activists are asserting that climate change is a very real and current problem. Tapaha said he sees climate change already affecting people and want to see policy enacted now.

Many young climate activists stand beside supportive parents, many of whom said climate change shouldn't have been an issue for their children to begin with. Many recognized how their children are now becoming key pieces in the fight against climate change.

Flagstaff resident and father Joe Olguin said he is not only concerned for his kids' futures, but also for his potential grandchildren's, in a world experiencing a climate crisis. Olguin said his kids picked up on the severity of the issue as well.

“I have two daughters who don’t even want to have children because they’re so worried about the climate and the world we live in,” Olguin said.

New mother and NAU alumnus Marty Johnson expressed similar concerns. Johnson said that since becoming a mother, she worries about the future of the planet ⁠— a planet that will be her children's home longer than it will be hers.

“Climate change has just been an issue for me since I can remember [and] I grew up in the 80s," Johnson said. "It’s what I look for when I vote, and it’s become even more apparent for me now that I’m a mom.”

Johnson graduated from NAU with a degree in sustainability and said she wants people to become more conscious of climate issues when they vote.

While looking at the mass of students who walked out of school in support of the planet, Flagstaff resident Brian Tisher said he recognized these youth engaged in their futures as the real leaders of this world.

“These are the people who will become elected officials," Tisher said. "These are the people who will become our future business leaders.”

Scientists have demonstrated that the climate crisis is not going anywhere without major alterations to environmental policies within populations around the globe, including Flagstaff. Local youth climate activists want to contribute to these changes.