Do you remember that episode of “Phineas and Ferb” where they made it snow during the summer? They called it S’Winter, and all of the kids slid down huge heaps of snow, built snowmen and had crazy snowball fights in June! When we were younger, the concept sounded pretty cool. I mean, snow during the hottest time of the year? That sounded amazing to the 12-year-old me! But what if, instead of making it snow during the summer, they made it hot during the winter? That would’ve been even better right? Well, sure, from an animation standpoint. In real life? Not so much.
This winter was certainly one for the record books across the nation. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this was the sixth warmest winter on record for the nation, the average temperature being 3.7 degrees above normal. NOAA also reported that this winter has been the second warmest winter for Georgia in particular, along with several other southern states. Many people celebrated this development. Several of my friends even came to school giddy about the fact that they could wear their new Forever 21 summer clothes (why does this stuff always go on sale mid-winter?) without having to wait until April.
I tried to celebrate with them and relish in the fact that I didn’t have to bundle up every day like years before. But, I couldn’t bring myself to since I already knew what was really happening.
In my sophomore year of high school, I took an AP Environmental Science class. I didn’t pay much mind to it at first. It was just another class on my schedule that I had to pass. However, I found it eye-opening in ways I’d never expected.
My teacher dedicated a large portion of the year to global warming. By that time, I had been through plenty of lectures about the concept. I found myself bored by her lessons at first, ignorantly thinking of them as repetitive and irritating.
And then, I really started paying attention as I noticed some changes in the real world.
My teacher told us about everything that was really happening. Those crazy tornadoes that suddenly began hitting the Midwest last year at odd times? The strange migration patterns animals seem to be adopting on a whim? The temperature reaching 80 degrees in February? That’s all thanks to us. In an FAQ article, NOAA reported that emissions from humans activities, such as methane gas from agriculture and carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, have changed the concentration of particles in the air. They also reveal that there has been a significant spike in the concentration of carbon dioxide during our era, methane gas being the main contributor to the issue. And the consequences are very real.
My teacher also began telling us how in a few years, the changes could be catastrophic. Like, cities-swept-underwater/people-dying-in-heat-waves/food-wiped-off-the-shelves catastrophic.
I started freaking out. I asked more questions than I’ve ever asked in class. I started researching when it wasn’t required for assignments. I was so engrossed in the topic, it started taking up a lot of my time as I fantasized about the possible outcomes of the phenomenon.
In my research, I found a lot of unsettling information. According to the Weather Channel, June 19 was the hottest day of the year for the Southwest. Temperatures reached up to 118 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona, the fifth-hottest day on record for the city. Furthermore, Alaska started the year off with the warmest temperatures on record in 2016. NOAA reported that Alaska’s average temperature this past winter was 5.7 degrees (I know that may seem pretty darn cold, but cold weather in Alaska is different from cold weather in Atlanta. This is still 2.7 degrees above average for them.) Alaska is famous for its cool temperatures due to the beautiful glaciers that surround it. However, this slight change has been cause for concern for many.
The more I learned, the queasier I got. While I panicked, though, my peers carried on as usual. My classmates spent most of their class time surfing Instagram and refreshing their Snapchat feeds. I was confused. How could they not see how serious the situation was? Are people really this oblivious? Do teens not realize we’re the ones who will be screwed if we don’t do something now?
No. There’s no way in hell I’m the only one that sees this, I thought. I started asking people around school about what their thoughts were on the situation.
“It scares me how the climate is changing so rapidly,” said Brianna Brown, a senior at Benjamin E. Mays High School. “When I was younger, the weather was nothing like this. It’s just kind of unsettling to see how bipolar it is now.”
At her response, I let out a sigh of relief. I wasn’t the only one who cared!
“I always try to monitor my actions so that I won’t have a huge negative impact on the environment. I’m cautious about how long I keep the water on. I recycle. I don’t litter, and I research about endangered animals,” she said. Her response filled me with utter joy. It was nice to know that there are other students who know the importance of the environment and how we affect it.
I set out to ask another student, hoping for the same results. However, her answers varied slightly.
“The weather doesn’t necessarily scare me. It actually kind of excites me, because you never know what the weather will be,” said Jessica Jackson, another senior at Mays High School. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, because the weather has always been a bit [extreme] in Atlanta. Plus, I’m religious, so that plays a part in my views toward the weather.”
I asked her if she was aware of the environment’s current fragile state.
She said, “Yes, I know what’s going on out there. I’m aware that the environment is in a pretty bad state, but I don’t see the point in worrying right now. Any change we attempt to make will take a lot of time, so we may as well take the time to think about what to do.”
I understood where she was coming from. When I asked her about her efforts to help the environment, Jessica said, “I try to recycle, but my parents usually don’t let me.” That rang a bell for me, having been in a similar situation with my parents before.
“When I was younger,” she continued, “I used to keep a bag next to my bed to put my used plastic bottles in to recycle later. When my dad found out, he was furious. He took the bags and threw them away in the trash. So, yeah, I try. There are just some factors that stop me sometimes.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of this. For some reason, I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem anti-environment. Many believe global warming is a lie and that we have nothing to worry about. They don’t think animals are going extinct, and they don’t think the strange storms and weather have anything to do with humans. So, maybe it wasn’t necessarily the kids’ fault for not thinking about the environment and its issues. Maybe it was due to their parents’ influence.
To clarify the issue, I asked my AP Environmental Science teacher about her students. Timiko Gray has been teaching AP Environmental Science at Mays for two years, and has a daughter who will be graduating in my class, as well.
“A majority of my students are extremely engaged in my class,” she said. “Many of them had never heard about the issues we’re facing right now. A lot of them find it to be an eye-opening experience and have become more in-tune with the environment due to its many aspects. Everyone can find something to pursue environmental-wise, so it hits close to home with a lot of students and really makes them think about [what] they can do to help.”
After the interviews, I realized I could have been wrong. Amid the environmental turmoil, there are several students who have taken action and begun thinking about how they can help. Many have even taken action by joining some of the several programs that have environmental initiatives in our own community to combat the harmful effects on human life on earth.
Students in the Benjamin E. Mays High School Urban Agriculture Club, for example, spend their days planting a variety of crops in the school’s greenhouse. To my surprise, the greenhouse was the product of our own Sydney Stepnie’s imagination, as she conjured the idea for a science project that she was working on involving the use of aquaponics to grow crops. With aquaponics, plants are grown in their own individual pods and fertilized by a water source containing fish. In doing so, less water is used, and no harmful pesticides are used on the crops. It’s a lot healthier for the environment and produces extremely nutritious food.
“The Mays High greenhouse has been a stepping stone not only for our school but the community as a whole,” said Stepnie, the greenhouse’s founder. “It has allowed numerous bodies of people a chance to actually see minority school students making a difference for the betterment of the lives of citizens. I think it is important for students to learn and effectively understand where the foods they eat come from and how the food is produced. If more students take the first step in life, which is trying new things, then most people you would never expect to become become a part of something are active members.”
Another organization is Earth Tomorrow, an environmental program of the National Wildlife Federation with a leadership program in Atlanta. Their goal is to educate youth on the different issues of the environment and encourage us to take action in our own communities to aid in the effort for environmental restoration. I participated in this program last summer, and it was truly an experience unlike any other. During the course of the program, students venture to many natural sites, such as the Blue Ridge Mountains, to learn about nature and ecosystems, and assist the community by cleaning parks and helping other community members maintain public gardens.
So, maybe my panic is a bit premature. There is still a possibility of my generation being the saving grace of the earth, and it may be closer than we think.
I think the key to truly encouraging students to take action is to get the word out and show them what we can do to help. Even something as simple as taking the train rather than driving a car can have a tremendous impact. If we can get everyone to see this, I think the world would be a lot better off. And maybe, in the future, we’ll never have to worry about an episode of “Phineas and Ferb” becoming real life.
Some ways teens can get involved:
Want to volunteer or donate and be a part of the Atlanta conservation effort?
Check out their website: treesatlanta.org/volunteer/
Contact: 404-552-4097, Monday- Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Kamaya, 17, a senior at Benjamin E. Mays High School, enjoys every music genre, but loves J.Cole at the moment. Kamaya also created the infographic for this story.