My View: Trauma rises as climate changes
In a rapidly changing country, and in many cases not for the better, several related items in the news have caught my attention.
Temperatures are soaring into triple-digits again in Oregon this summer, bringing back memories of last year's deadly heat dome and triggering slight panic: stress for people in my community who don't have access to cooling in their homes, the thought of the people who died in the extreme heat.
For the first time in state history, the Oregon Health Authority recently published a study on how the climate crisis is harming the mental health of my generation, young Oregonians. It's both sad and in a way helpful to hear so many other young people are feeling the same as me. We're frustrated at the growing climate crisis, afraid for our futures.
When I think about the climate crisis, the first emotion that rises within me is anger. Our generation watches year after year as those in charge of our cities, states and country say they're trying to do better, and yet the transformative action to solve this crisis with a transition to clean energy isn't happening fast enough. I'm angry they've known for decades, twice my lifetime in fact, that burning fossil fuels would destroy my future. Yet, mostly I see politicians and corporations blaming individual people for their choices instead of holding actual fossil fuel companies responsible. They're putting short-term profit over my ability to survive. They're putting corporate interests over the next generation's interests.
A stark example of what my generation faces was also in the news recently. Testimony presented to Oregon's Public Utility Commission in April revealed that one of Oregon's largest fossil fuel companies, NW Natural Gas, printed propaganda and sent it to Oregon schools in the guise of an activity book for young children. They call their global-warming fossil fuel a "friend," with no mention of the drastic damage burning it and drilling for it is doing to the livability of our planet and no mention of cleaner alternatives, such as wind and solar power.
With the mental toll the climate crisis is already taking on my generation, and learning a fossil fuel company is targeting a generation even younger than mine; imagine how it makes us feel.
I don't know how to be more clear. To alleviate these mental health harms, we need to see we're being taken seriously. To those with the power to do something, hold these corporations accountable and do it now. Make the fast transition to clean energy. Stop building homes and buildings with methane gas pumped in, and assist those who are stuck on the gas system now to electrify. Help people get around without oil, gasoline and diesel. We can require all car and truck sales to be electric by 2035, as other states and major auto companies are doing. By the time I'm old enough to run for office, it'll be too late.
I'd like to see more focus in school, in counseling, and in every part of life on educating people about the climate crisis and the role of fossil fuel corporations. It should be mandatory in school. Young people should be included in making important decisions on climate policy. We know a lot about the problems and it's our lives at stake. But finally, and most importantly, the government must make climate action a true priority. There are less than eight years left, according to science, to cut climate pollution in half before the climate crisis is out of control and my generation is doomed to an unstable future. Most climate programs, even after they are law, take a year or two to get going. Elected leaders in power today are the only ones who can take action in time.
Riya Saripalli, 17, will be a senior in high school in the fall. She lives in Portland and finds community and some relief by doing her part for climate action through an internship with the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.
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