By Deirdre Francks '20
In these last few weeks before the new presidential term begins, emotions are running high. For many, these include feelings of confusion and despair. The past eight weeks have yielded countless news articles, opinion pieces and statistical analyses about the election of Donald Trump and its implications for the future, but it is impossible to predict exactly what is to come. I am deeply saddened by the outcome of this election, especially as cabinet appointments are announced, angry tweets are sent, and the impact of a campaign led by hate and ignorance comes to fruition in communities across America. I am devastated, yes, but not without hope and purpose.
I must admit, this sense of purpose I feel has not been without falter, for in the few days immediately following the election I felt powerless. It was hard to comprehend that the past eighteen months - the ludicrous campaign, nomination and eventual election of a politically inexperienced television personality– were not a dream, nor some kind of sick joke soon to be revealed. Some portion of the American public (a little less than half, it would appear) had spoken, and they wanted Donald Trump to leave his tower for the Oval Office. On election night I felt a crushing sense of dread. What would become of reproductive rights, immigration laws, climate action and so many other pressing issues?
On November 9th, in the midst of much despair, I attended a screening of a documentary called “Racing Extinction.” After 24 hours spent contemplating the future of the climate under a Trump presidency I was hardly in the mood to watch a documentary confirming my deepest fears about the natural world. Sure enough, I sat through footage covering the heart wrenching bleaching of coral reefs, illegal capture and trade of precious wildlife, and emission of carbon and methane captured on camera. My spirits sank as the film constantly stressed the importance of regulating and restricting those activities that take a serious toll on our planet. When the narrator directly urged the audience to vote for environmentally-friendly candidates my eyes welled with tears– a blend of despair and rage. If only it were that easy to elect candidates who will fight for climate justice.
My thoughts throughout the majority of the film were bleak; if we don’t start making serious moves to reverse climate change how will we ever change course? Do I really have the willpower to study and work on climate issues when the field is so depressing? As so many of these thoughts swirled in my head I wished desperately to be anywhere else besides watching what seemed to be a climate doomsday film.
But then something in the documentary gave me the most important reminder I could have received in that moment. When faced with pessimism about humankind’s capability to change, cinematographer and marine conservationist Shawn Heinrichs, the man behind the film, invokes a proverb; “Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”
As with any kind of activism or social struggle it’s so easy to feel that there will never be enough progress made, never enough voices heard. For every tree planted, how many are clear-cut in the Amazon? With each climate policy introduced, how many legislators and their constituents are quick to oppose it? It can be disheartening to feel that conservation efforts will never sufficiently offset humankind’s consumption. In this mindset I have often been guilty of surrendering to pessimism.
But then I am reminded that this is how movements are strengthened and progress is made. One hundred years ago, women were on the verge of gaining the right to vote in the U.S., an accomplishment preceded by a long and tumultuous struggle, and now we cannot imagine a world without this liberty. Fifty years ago, gay rights activists did not expect to see the legalization of gay marriage in their lifetime, but that did not stop them from taking action and ultimately achieving a Supreme Court victory. I dream of a time when climate awareness and protection is simply ingrained in societal behaviors; when environmental policies are commonplace and conservation efforts universal.
We can each light a candle, every day, by making the extra effort to advocate for the planet. We can do it by starting a conversation with someone who wants to learn about climate change, or just by skipping a trip to the mall in favor of a jaunt in the woods. When faced with an issue as grand and complex as climate change focusing on all that has yet to be done can be daunting. Why not instead focus on each victory? And when disheartened by the struggle of climate advocacy under a new administration, let us seek to illuminate the darkness. The incoming administration, whatever their stance on climate change and protecting our planet, cannot overpower the light that we create.
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This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.