By Alex McIntosh
As a college freshman, at once indecisive and overly-enthusiastic, my most feared question was, “What are you studying?” Pair this with the vulnerable position of being in a dentist’s chair, and picture me fumbling over my words—and the fingers in my mouth—trying to explain my Outdoor Education major and that I wanted to teach kids about the environment by taking them backpacking and canoeing. I hadn’t even gotten to the rock climbing skills when my well-meaning, extremely conservative dentist looked me in the eyes over his mask and said, “Oh, you’re one of those environmental liberals.” I started to protest, to explain that I wasn’t even talking about politics, just a basic appreciation of nature, but quickly resigned, sinking back into the chair while he poked at my gums and lectured me about the dangers of the welfare state. I had yet to learn the power of political connotations, or the fact that something as broad as “the environment” could be owned by one side of the political aisle, or the fervor of those who opposed my so-called liberal agenda.
Flash forward eight years to find me—a more decisive but still enthusiastic version of me—in front of Cincinnati’s City Hall on September 20th of this year. Hundreds of voices rise together, joined in the words of a call-and-response song led by a local high school student: “I hear the voice of my great granddaughter saying ‘climate justice now.’” The protest, organized by Ohio Climate Strike and the Young Activists Coalition in conjunction with similar events around Ohio and the world, is a demand for political action in response to the problem of climate change. Of course, for politicians and voters to respond to a problem, they must first be convinced that there is a problem. In this era of fake news and flat earthers—two of this decade’s most popular anti-consensus trends— it’s no wonder that something as scientifically evident as climate change might be up for debate.
The tiniest bit of research— via sources as trustworthy as NASA, The World Wildlife Fund, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations, National Geographic, and every major news source (including Fox News)— reveals that the Earth’s temperature is rising at an unprecedented rate, and that the vast majority of climate scientists (97% according to NASA.com) agree that human activities are the likely cause. Rather than speculating on the financial and political causes for many politicians’ refusal to make climate concerns a priority, the Climate Strike’s anthem was a song of unity, of our belonging to the Earth and to each other, as well as to those who will come after us. As polarized and divisive as our current political situation remains, the environment stands to serve as a unifying factor. Might the ground we walk on— and the air we breathe, and the water we drink— become neutral ground?
As a lover of the outdoors, who is by no means an expert in climate science, I’m constantly amazed at the power of nature to rekindle our humanity. Being outside— and away from the demands of modern technological society—allows me to rest in a completely unique way. Even sitting in a neighborhood park provides the mental and spiritual space for me to breathe more easily, listening to birds chirping and watching the sunlight dance between tree limbs to play on the sidewalk. Science shows again and again that being in nature is good for our mental well-being, and even those who distrust science can’t deny that we rely daily on the natural world. It saddens me deeply that the environment has been manipulated into a political tool that divides, rather than a blessing that unites.