AFT Intern Lora Mathis Gives Speech on the Need for Change at San Diego’s Virtual Earth Day

The Need for Change

By AFT Intern Lora Mathis

The fight against the climate change crisis is a fight for the future. Changes in our environment are taking place at an unprecedented rate, and they don’t call for passivity as a response. In the face of the pandemic, we are all being called to look at our social systems with a closer lens and seeing flaws of systems around us being exposed. And through this crisis, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are bearing the brunt of the burden: working class people, immigrants, lower income people and people of color. These are the same groups which are most affected by climate change. Climate change is not divorced from other issues. It is a place where they intersect.

I understand that talking about climate change often brings on an overwhelming wave of fear. Such terror often brings the desire to ignore the problem, to pretend that it will simply solve itself. I remember being 13 years old and watching “An Inconvenient Truth,” then coming home as a puddle of tears. It felt so overwhelming then, to attempt to confront the future when the statistics and scientific facts stated: it looks bleak. That fear has not left me, and I think this is the case for many young people. We are not separated from the terror, but we recognize that for too long, fear has bred immobility, avoidance, and excuses. And we need large-scale action.

As much as the desire for action is rooted in necessity, it is not devoid of hopefulness or a belief that systems truly can be reimagined. We are seeing in real time that people are capable of adapting when they are called to do so. I imagine a future in which the worldview which has led to global climate change is shifted and where we move away from focusing on profits, individualism, and short-sighted success, instead adopting a more justice-oriented, collectively-focused, environmentally engaged approach to being in the world. I imagine empathy, connection, respect, and compassion at the forefront of such a future. Further, Indigenous people have long been stewards of the natural world, and have been criminalized for their advocacy and protection of the environment. I look to them as leaders in climate change, and as having a legacy in fighting for the environment. This is not solely work which exists on the individual level. It is not simply about how many plastic straws we can save when corporations are emitting massive amounts of carbon dioxide. This is a matter of shifting to a more holistic worldview, establishing legislation which protects the environment, bringing in a Green New Deal, mitigating the problem the best we can, and adapting as needed.

Now, through this pandemic, we are being called to address flawed systems. The Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy wrote in her essay “The Pandemic Is A Portal”:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

The time to fight is now. There is a reason young people are walking out of school to strike for climate. We are asking to be heard. We have read the statistics. We have heard the scientists. We know that we do not have time to waste on this issue, that changes to our world are already occurring and that they are linked to the overall health and future of humanity.  We understand people are afraid; we are terrified. And this is why we are shouting with such urgency. Action is already taking place, and we are asking it to move into a larger scale, for changes to be adopted on local, national, and international levels. We are calling from a place of hope and urgency for the world around us to be reimagined, for this is what is needed to bring a future for all of us.