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This Earth Day, Let’s Follow the Lead of the Young on the Climate Crisis


A perspective from Deacon Stephen Yates, PhD


Soon, fruit stands and farmers’ markets will be overflowing with North Carolina’s bountiful spring and summer produce. I can hardly wait to savor our locally grown, sweet strawberries, tart blueberries, and to have peach juice run down my chin. It is my favorite time of year to be a North Carolinian.

Yet, spring is also a time of year when I’ve become increasingly anxious about changes to our environment. For example, our spring weather has become less predictable, with warmer days coming far earlier in the season. Statistically, the decade between 2009-2018 represented the warmest 10-year period on record in North Carolina, while 2019 was the warmest year ever in our state. Just last year, at least three cold fronts threatened the 2022 apple crop in the southeast part of our state. I have some blueberry bushes growing in my yard, and with this year’s late March freezing temperatures following weeks of atypically warm weather, I’ve worried my berries could be ruined.

My environmental anxiety is supported by evidence. The North Carolina Climate Science Report, published in 2020 states, “Our scientific understanding of the climate system strongly supports the conclusion that North Carolina’s climate has changed in recent decades and the expectation that large changes—much larger than at any time in the state’s history—will occur if current trends in greenhouse gas concentrations continue.”

Of course, changes to the climate are not unique to our state. The latest U.N. report shows that climate change is already having a significant impact on the entire planet, and these impacts will only get worse if we continue along our current path. Around the world, millions of people each year deal with extreme weather conditions, increased hunger, failed crops, and conflict – all of which have been made worse by climate change. The irony is that the countries and people that are usually most affected by climate change are among some of the poorest in the world, those who have contributed the least to the crisis. In fact, Research shows that up to 132 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty by climate change by 2030.

So, what can we do to turn things around? The good news is that our young people are showing us that change is possible—and that each of us could be part of the solution.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia with the humanitarian organization Catholic Relief Services, where they are working with a team of young people to bring awareness to the impacts of deforestation and climate change. These young people are planting trees and are promoting climate education in schools, driving community awareness on climate change, and promoting recycling.  Their joy and their enthusiasm are infective and inspirational.

But we don’t have to look as far as Africa to find inspired youth who are dedicated to bringing awareness and change. The North Carolina Students for Climate Action is a group that’s working to create positive climate action in our communities. Their website highlights more than a dozen organizations across North Carolina that are working to protect our fragile environment.

As a Catholic, my interest in protecting the environment is strongly linked to my faith. In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis asks, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” The Pope reminds us that it is our responsibility to care for the Earth, our common home, and that in caring for the planet, we are also caring for those who least contribute to climate change. Pope Francis tells us in Laudato Si, “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God.”

To be sure, our time to act on the climate crisis is running out. But we still have time. We can advocate for policies that slash greenhouse gas emissions and for policies that support climate adaptation finance. We can also make changes in our day-to-day lives that help reduce our carbon footprint, such as driving less. Our young people are already showing us the way forward—we’d be wise to follow their lead.

Surely, we can all agree that no one should miss out on those sweet tastes of spring and summer that we enjoy today.  In joining our hearts and advocating for the protection of our common home we can ensure that sweet NC peach juice will continue to drip down the chins of our children, grandchildren, and the many generations to come.

“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.