The Climate Survival Toolkit for High School Graduates
What an honor and a privilege to be here with you all. I am blown away by the magnificent idea of New Roots to combine rigorous academics with the vision of empowering young people to create just, democratic and equitable communities powered by green, sustainable economies.
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Yours is no ordinary graduation. Today’s rightful celebration marks the deployment of a force for good into a world that desperately needs your vision, energy and your convictions. Your class might not be the largest to graduate on this day, but mark my words, you could change the world.
And you must. Right now the course of our future is being set by the fossil fuel industry, the most powerful corporations in the history of the world, and they’re steering us off a cliff into a raging inferno. They fight each day to blow up more mountains for coal, demolish more land and oceans for oil and shatter more of the ground beneath our feet by fracking for oil and gas with a cocktail of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind. With each passing day that these interests set our course, with every additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted like a poison in our atmosphere, the drier the ink becomes on the bleak future written by the fossil fuel industry.
That future is one where oceans drown our coastal homes and cities, where biodiversity is diminished. It’s a future where droughts will parch our agricultural fields and allow wildfires to run rampant. It’s a future where clean, freshwater will be among the world’s scarcest resources, and where smog and pollution suffocate our lungs and the planet’s.
Given the fossil fuel industry’s seemingly unlimited money and political influence, changing their course and taking control of our future is a tall order. But again, we must. And all of you, yes at your young ages, can make the choices that lead you to seize that control.
I turned 24 last month, and I can tell you how significant a difference each of us can make, how important the choices we make can be and the power we have as youth in this country.
I’ve made some of those choices. I studied ecology at Cornell, following my love of scientific research. After my undergraduate, I planned to pursue a doctorate and launch a career in research. I was particularly interested in studying high-elevation, mountainous ecosystems and how climate change would affect them. One example I worked on stands out. There’s a bird in New York’s Catskill Mountains called the Bicknell’s Thrush, a threatened species that only lives in ecosystems unique to the highest 600 feet of the tallest mountains.
To cut to the chase of a lot of data, detailed spreadsheets and a great deal of literature, climate change is bad news for the Bicknell’s Thrush. As the climate warms, ecosystems and other species’ ranges will shift and those 600 feet of habitat will become 400, 200 and eventually none. The appropriate conditions for the Bicknell’s Thrush will be above the top of the highest mountains. In other words, no more Bicknell’s Thrushes in the Catskills.
My research was essentially projecting the effects of climate change over time, which are mostly negative, often disastrous, and in this case meant projecting the demise of the Bicknell’s Thrush in the Catskills over the next 50 years or so. It hit me that I would ultimately be judging my success by how well I had predicted the demise of a species and an ecosystem I cherished.
How’s that for a career and your life’s work?
Around the same time, a professor pointed me to an opportunity to work for a year in environmental advocacy after graduating. I didn’t really know what that was, but as I looked into it more and more, I realized it was a chance to directly affect our future, to campaign for laws that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, safeguard important environmental protections and build a movement to stop the worst impacts of climate change and environmental destruction. On this path, in 50 years I could judge my success not by how well I predicted the demise of species and ecosystems, but by how well they are doing.
I guess you know what choice I made. In that year, I was part of a successful campaign to save our nation’s best climate laws in California from a couple of Texas oil companies; I worked in Maine to protect the Clean Air Act from extreme special interests; and I worked on Power Shift in our nation’s capital to build the youth climate movement.
After Washington DC, I had another job lined up in New Hampshire. But I’d been learning more and more about fracking. I saw the disaster that was taking place in Pennsylvania, the research showing that fracking is one of the worst things we could do for the climate, and that widespread fracking was on the verge of being allowed in New York State. Worse yet, I saw that fracking was pushing out renewable energy, falsely being sold as a clean transition fuel, and was on track to expand exponentially across the country and the world.
I knew that the oil and gas industry had set a course for a future dominated by fracked oil and gas. If we were going to stop them, we would have to make a stand in New York.
With that conviction, I chose not to take the job in New Hampshire and instead committed myself 100 percent to stopping fracking. I moved back to New York and joined up with a couple of young women who had recently started an organization called Frack Action with the mission to stop fracking outright.
We believed that if we could stop it in New York, that would send shockwaves across the country and the world and we could also stop it elsewhere. It’s a lofty goal, but one we must reach to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and to create a renewable energy future.
Given the political landscape, we saw an urgent need to better coordinate the growing grassroots movement and leverage its power across the state, in Albany and in the media. As it stood, the grassroots weren’t being heard in our capital, where an army of gas industry lobbyists and a sophisticated propaganda campaign were drowning out our voices and the science.
At that point, Frack Action had a terrible website, a few hundred likes on Facebook and Twitter, and no funding. But the group of us all had some good political experience and an abundance of determination. We worked tirelessly off savings, loans and some small contributions. Frack Action organized the first major rally for a ban in Albany with a record breaking 500 people. With many allies, we went on to build out the movement, educating businesses, farmers, elected officials and combating the gas industry’s lies with science and facts. Countless rallies and press conferences got the truth out and helped build the movement across the state.
And the movement was growing like wildfire, with each grassroots group inspiring another and each local action igniting the next.
Our work with the media began to change the discussion from when and how fracking would take place to whether it would take place. And today, the call for a full statewide ban is the prevailing demand. Our voices would go on to carry across the state, nation and even the world in thousands of news stories, informing the public and the national debate while also pressuring our elected officials.
Ultimately, our vision of a coordinated movement that could effectively leverage its influence turned into what is now the mighty New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition of over 200 organizations.
This past Monday, two years and a month after that first rally for a ban in Albany, over 3,000 people descended on Governor Cuomo’s doorstep to demand a frack free future powered by renewable energy. We made the case, and we made it loudly and forcefully, for a better future. Our voices resonated throughout the capitol and across the state and the nation in well over a hundred news outlets. The same morning, a poll showed statewide opposition to fracking significantly ahead of support.
By keeping fracking out this long, we’ve all done what many political insiders, elected officials and mainstream environmental organizations promised us was impossible. But this isn’t a fight for what seems possible—it’s a fight for what’s necessary. We haven’t won yet, but we’ve certainly changed the playing field. And our growth is exponential, not linear.
Meanwhile, the world is watching us in New York and similar coalitions and actions are popping up everywhere. We’ve helped empower a serious national and international movement against fracking.
In leaked documents, the gas industry notes how effective we are and the danger we pose. In other words, they’re worried that we are changing the course they’ve set for a future dominated by fracked oil and gas.
Our movement is broad and diverse. But that’s a result of the choices a relatively small number of individuals have made to dedicate ourselves to this cause, with the belief that we can change the course of our future. If not for those choices, we would have had fracking years ago and that future would loom darker. What I’ve come to know, and I know this for certain, is the incredible difference regular, individual people can make if they choose to.
They always have. An hour north of here in the town of Seneca Falls in 1848, one such individual named Elizabeth Cady Stanton led a group of 68 women and 32 men in signing the Declaration of Sentiments. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, it asserted the equality and rights of women. A small group of women’s vision, choices and action thus marked the beginning of the women's rights movement in the United States. From Seneca Falls they went forward with stalwart determination, and today we all benefit greatly from their resolve and their action.
Those women weren’t so different than you and I.
One of the men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments was Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery and became a leader of the abolitionist movement. He had the courage to fight the establishment for what was right in the face extraordinary odds and very personal attacks. Yet his words and his convictions inspired a movement and broad support ranging from everyday people to President Abraham Lincoln. He knew that you have to fight for the change you want to see in the world.
In his words, "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
These powerful words ring true in the environmental movement as well. In 1962, marine biologist and author Rachel Carson challenged the powerful chemical and pesticides industry with her book Silent Spring. Industry fiercely opposed her work, but Caron's powerful voice carried the science and rang true, leading to a reversal of national pesticide policy and a ban on DDT. As pollution ran rampant, her uncompromising voice also inspired a grassroots environmental movement.
In 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day, which marked a pivotal turning point away from a future of unchecked pollution and toxic chemicals. Twenty-six year old Dennis Hayes coordinated the event nationally with a team of 85 people, turning out a shocking 20 million Americans demanding environmental reform. Later that year, as a result of the public outcry, Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and enacted the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act would follow in 1972.
Isn’t that amazing?
Today we face climate change, perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.
Yet as hard as it will be to meet, this is a moment of hope, not despair. If history is any guide, don’t doubt the power of individuals and small groups of people to change the course of our future.
We are those people.
Can you imagine if 20 million people took to the streets tomorrow to demand action on climate change?
We have the science showing we have to take serious action. We have the technology to makes the changes. We need the political will.
That’s up to us. As youth, our voices can carry far. Both the Democratic and Republican parties recognize that youth played a major role in the last two presidential elections. Corporations know that the purchasing habits we make now last for life, and as a result listen to us intently. But most importantly, we have a vision for a better world, and we can make that vision a reality with the right determination and action. It’s our future, and it’s time we take ownership of it.
Recall the words of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Uncompromising, let’s make that demand. Let’s give science the force of 20 million people pushing it forward. With love and resolve, let’s take control of our future.
In closing, I implore you all: give your convictions the power of action. Wherever you go from here, make the choices to make a difference.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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