I remember the moment the climate crisis became real for me.
Two years ago, during my freshman year of high school, the forests which encircle Portland were lit ablaze. The uncanny smell of smog infected the whole city, suffocating my lungs and burning my eyes. I dared to attempt lunch outside where the sun burned red, and the remains of dead forests rained down as flaky ashes. Hidden under their masks, people walked quickly past me, trying to escape the sickly air.
When I learned wildfires are becoming more common everywhere and climate change is largely to blame, I began to feel the enormity of climate change plummet down upon me.
Portland and Oregon are great places to live, but they don't quite live up to the reputation of a green utopia. We're falling behind other states. Our elected leaders are not taking the climate crisis
seriously, because if they were, we would be taking transformative action now to help more people use clean energy and hold corporate polluters accountable for what they're putting into the air.
In school, I've had the opportunity to learn about environmental justice in both the classroom and the greater community. Portland ranks among the worst cities in the United States for diesel pollution, and the horrific wildfires that have ravaged Oregon in recent years are only becoming more frequent and destructive due to the effects of climate change. Even clean drinking water is endangered by global warming, like when people in Salem had to deal with toxic algae, and when Prairie City in Eastern Oregon ran out of water because it dried up!
I learned how many big corporations reap huge profits from polluting our air, water, food and homes. Yet communities of color and low-income communities often experience the worst negative impacts of pollution. And I learned, while we only have a very short time to accomplish it, we have the means to effectively reduce our climate pollution, protecting ourselves and our communities. We just need some courage from our elected leaders to make it happen. There's no hiding from this crisis.
In my family we do our part to take responsibility for the environment, like many people we know. My parents get their car checked for emissions, yet big corporations do not show the same level of responsibility. We have to require them to do their share to cut pollution, to switch to clean energy and pay for the damage they've caused.
I wish I could focus on studying, hanging out with my friends, thinking about college or a career. I and my entire generation have to carry this burden of fear. We have to get involved before we're even old enough to vote because the adults aren't taking responsibility to save us. There is no halfway or good enough. This is an emergency.
I joined thousands of other Oregonians in the Youth Climate Strike Friday, Sept. 20, because we cannot wait any longer to address the climate crisis. Making big polluters pay for climate action initiatives and moving toward 100% clean energy sources are practical, well-tested strategies that will move us toward a healthier future. This is our world, but it's also my future. Every year we lose means we have to work that much harder. We cannot afford to be complacent any longer.
Anika Pillai is a junior at Lincoln High School in Portland.
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