The hubbub of conversation filling a dark theater in Santa Monica College (SMC) died out, replaced by the voice of sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, in a video of her speech at the December 2018 U.N. Climate Summit.
“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children,” she said, prompting a visibly emotional reaction from the audience.
The students and activists were gathered in the Theater Arts Main Stage at SMC for the school’s Youth For Climate Action Panel, organized on May 9. Patrick Hentschel, an SMC student, served as moderator. Panelists included the chair of SMC’s Psychology Department Alex Schwartz, spokesperson for the youth-based climate action organization Sunrise Movement D Garcia and a pair of senior organizers of Food & Water Watch Walker Foley and Alexandra Nagy
“People are not ready for what’s coming and they really need to understand that we will have a very different future for all of us if we keep going on this path,” said Ferris Kawar, the Director of Sustainability at SMC as he opened the event.
Schwartz detailed a few issues that deter anti-climate change activism: “Our brains are good at taking immediate actions towards stimuli that are present, that are visible,” he said. When it comes to climate change, Schwartz said, “even worse than it being far away, it doesn’t have a face.”
Nagy’s environmental focus is primarily on eliminating fracking in the state of California and beyond. Both Nagy and Foley emphasized California has recently decided to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry, a huge accomplishment for the two.
“We’ve known about this for decades. It’s not for a lack of knowledge, it’s not for a lack of science, that we haven’t done anything,” Nagy said.
“We’re looking for people like yourselves, in your community, and telling you that it’s okay to believe in yourself,” Foley said.
While all the panelists were in favor of more action, disagreement broke out in response to a question about personal versus corporate responsibility for the environment.
An audience-member questioned the value of personal sacrifices given the 2017 Carbon Majors Report report, which claims 100 corporations are responsible for 71 percent of global pollution.
Nagy said that, “a revolution includes overthrowing our fossil fuel Capitalist overlords.”
Schwartz and Hentschel debated whether the discussion of minimal community-based actions and that of action from bigger corporations need to be mutually exclusive. The two settled the matter by saying that both are important topics.
“The difference in many ways is that they have the bigger button,” said Hentschel.
SMC will offer free courses in sustainability this summer, and already offers a number of courses related to environmental topics.
This story was produced as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair student newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press.