shows a seemingly calm beach at sunrise, but there may be rip currents present
Photo credit: Ken Lund, Flickr Creative Commons

By Trisha Martinez

Climate change is a situation that has been brushed aside and has not been taken seriously until the voices of teens such as Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, took a stand in opposition to the political inaction in her country. 

I talked with Dr. Katherine Stevenson, who is an assistant professor in the parks, recreation and tourism management department at N.C. State University. She talked about the significance of youth voices to spread awareness about climate change.

It’s not that hard, she said.

“I would say that what our research would suggest is essentially when you start talking to people about climate change, they’re more likely to care about it, right?” Stevenson told me. “Maybe they don’t know about it, or maybe it’s just not something that they think about, right? Like I think at this point, most people know about climate change.

“…Or they know what’s happening, or whatever, but I think conversations with people about it, just like kind of cuing people …: ‘Hey, I care about this. Maybe you should care about that too.’” 

Dr. Stevenson gave me an understanding of the circumstances that we, as young people, are confronting and how we teenagers can make a difference.

“I think kids need to care about climate change because it’s going to impact them and I think they’re poised to make a really big difference by talking to adults to motivate them to act now in ways that I think other adults just can’t motivate them,” Stevenson said.

When you hear the words “climate change,” what’s your first emotion to those two words?

Could it be scared or angry?

Or hopeless?

Or even motivated? 

The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation found that 57 percent of U.S. teens are afraid of climate change according to an article in the Washington Post. 

“However, nearly the same share of teens feel motivated by climate change,” the survey found 

Despite the fact that teenagers are anxious about discussing serious topics such as environmental change, they are attempting to educate themselves.

And teens can provide unique perspectives in their conversations around the environment, such as going to protests. They can also talk about how their future is in the hands of the current generation of adults.

“I think they’re poised to make a really big difference,” Stevenson said. “By talking to adults to motivate them to act now in ways that I think other adults just can’t can’t motivate them.”

One main reason why teens care about climate change is because it’s going to have a great impact on us in the future. Our future is held by a thread and once it is destroyed, there is no going back. This is why teens are now stepping up to lead these conversations about climate change.

You may ask yourself: “What can I do?”

“You have a voice… it’s something everyone has,” Stevenson told me. “Just by talking and engaging with others helps spread the word about climate change. Talking to parents or talking to friends, and it doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but just talking about, is a good start. A lot of our work has shown that just talking about climate change tends to motivate care and it tends to motivate people.”

Stevenson added that it’s important to talk with people who care, or might not care so much, about climate change.

“Talking to a parent that doesn’t care about climate change might demotivate somebody,” Stevenson said. “But it doesn’t, right?”

It can take some time, but people just need to keep talking. 

“So it doesn’t… seem to matter necessarily what the content of that conversation is,” Stevenson added. “It’s just having a conversation, right? …I think that’s been supported by several kinds of top scholars in climate change communication where just saying: ‘Just talk about it.’”

So, in the end, we should use our voices for the good and not allow people to silence us.

Trisha Martinez, a 17-year-old from Tabor City, explores how youth speaking to adults about climate change can transform and empower adults to do more about the issue.