Bella Drissell—Guest Writer
We have a serious problem here in Sioux County—we do not behave as if the climate crisis is an existential threat. Yet, every year over 5 million people lose their lives to climate change-related causes, and many more lose their livelihoods. Climatologists warn that if we do not address this crisis within the next decade, our planet will be uninhabitable by the century’s end. This is having a serious impact on all parts of life in this country, from housing to mental health. How can we be expected to alter our destructive course when communities like this one continue to ignore the warning signs? I believe this crisis is more personal to Sioux County than we are willing to admit, and it is there that I see a solution.
In August, my sister and I began attending virtual meetings hosted by Sunrise Vermillion, a South Dakota hub of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization fighting for climate justice. A friend of ours is one of the coordinators, and we were excited to see how the group was doing in an area like our own: a rural college town in a Republican Midwestern state. So far, Sunrise Vermillion has had some success in encouraging dialogue and getting participants to imagine what a sustainable future could look like—not only in an abstract way, but for their community in specific. What if we could bring this dialogue to Sioux Center, to encourage people to begin to discuss their thoughts on the climate crisis?
I experience a lot of fear and worry surrounding our planet’s current state, a response known as climate anxiety. I have struggled to manage these fears, but the news about the climate crisis makes a vegetarian diet and a home that is supplied with partial wind energy feel insignificant in the face of hurricanes, flooding, droughts, and the accompanying displacement and death.
Climate anxiety is not something that I alone experience. Over two-thirds of Americans are “somewhat worried” about climate change, and teens feel especially anxious, with 57 percent reporting feelings of fear, and 43 percent, hopelessness. And these numbers are only expected to raise, especially in the wake of continued bad news this year. Despite such prevalence, we are often hesitant to talk about our climate anxiety, fearing backlash. Research suggests, though, that in climate anxiety lies a solution to our current state.
Like with other fears or anxiety, psychologists believe the best way to manage climate anxiety is to address it. We need to embrace the part of ourselves that grieves for what we might lose, using that energy to fight for a livable future. Climate change is accelerating, yes, but it is also far more visible to us now than it was 20 years ago, and the growing rates of concern reflect that. Nationally, this is a good sign, and yet my question remains: will we learn to talk about the climate crisis right here in Sioux County? Or will we go on pretending that everything is alright, that “God’s got this,” despite serious droughts, crop failures, temperature extremes, and storms of increasing intensity and frequency?
I think that, at least partly, the answer is up to us, the young people. We are the next generation, the ones who will inherit the businesses, farms, legacies, and planet that are our parents’ now. We are the ones who are reaching adulthood in a world that is on the verge of, and has already experienced, catastrophe. We are the ones most significantly affected by climate anxiety. And we are the ones who have already raised our voices across the planet, calling for radical change while we still have time. In the words of Greta Thunberg, “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
So please, even if you have not experienced climate anxiety and feel that the climate crisis has yet to touch your life—though I assure you it will one day—see it for what it is: an existential threat. Only then will communities like this one have no choice but to acknowledge climate change. It is time to speak up, to classmates, professors, friends, family, churches, and communities. You will be doing so, not just for the planet and everything and everyone you love, but also for yourself.