Ananya Seelam (she/her) is a freshman at Cornell University studying Computer Science with a concentration in Computational Sustainability — a field that uses computer science to develop models for decision making related to sustainability — and a minor in Inequality Studies. She has been involved in the climate space since she was in high school after having joined the ACE Action Fellowship program. Her experience within the program as well as her work in the climate movement has led her to continue pursuing work with climate activism.
Indi Howeth (IH): When did you first learn about the climate crisis? What was your immediate reaction?
Ananya Seelam (AS): Although I’ve heard that we need to take care of the planet ever since I can remember, the first time I really understood the intensity of the climate crisis was in 7th grade while watching a documentary called The Cosmos. In the show, they talked about how ever since the industrial revolution, the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been increasing at drastic rates. They also explained the long term consequences of these increased levels of greenhouse gases. My immediate reaction to this was that surely governments are doing something to protect us from the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, but after doing some research, I soon realized that nothing was being done and that instead, governments are aiding in furthering the climate crisis and that the effects of the climate crisis are already being felt all over the world.
IH: When did you first decide to get involved in climate activism? How and why did you come to that decision?
AS: I decided to get involved in climate activism in 10th grade when I decided to join the Action for the Climate Emergency. After a few years of just signing petitions and going to talks and events about climate change, I realized that I wanted to take active steps towards fighting the climate crisis.
IH: When was a time you felt proud of the impact you had made through your climate activism?
AS: A time I felt proud was while speaking at the Duke Rate Hike Hearings in March 2020. Being able to bring a youth perspective to the comments was a proud moment for me because it was clear that the commission had not heard from our young people about the issue. It was also a proud moment for me because as a Duke Energy consumer, it was important that I had my voice heard so that the future of Energy is not only affordable but sustainable.
IH: How do you cope with the fear and anxiety that the climate crisis induces?
AS: Climate anxiety is a feeling that I have felt since I first learnt that governments are doing little to nothing about the climate crisis. Knowing that there are organizations and movements that fight endlessly to have their voices heard and to make change on both a national and local level is what gives me hope for the future and what I think about when coping with climate anxiety. Having hope and taking small but meaningful actions in our daily lives is what calms me because it lets me know that I am doing the best I can to protect the world that was given to my generation and that there are millions of other young people who are also doing the same.
IH: Why did you get involved with the Action for the Climate Emergency?
AS: About three years ago, I learned about ACE from an advertisement I saw online. I contacted the Director of the Program at the time, Briana Steele, about how I can get involved in taking action. Before applying to become an ACE Fellow, I volunteered at the ACE booth at the Climate Carnival in Pittsboro and attended a meeting with the NC WARN Youth Team and the Action Fellowship students. From these experiences I learned that ACE can provide me with tools that will further allow me to make tangible impacts on my community.
IH: What have you been able to accomplish with the Action for the Climate Emergency?
AS: In my first year of the Fellowship, I spoke at a Governor’s roundtable, lobbied at the state legislature, and helped facilitate a workshop at the North Carolina Climate Justice Summit. In 2019, I traveled to New York to interview youth activists at the New York Climate Strike, UN Climate Action Summit during Climate Week. At these events I was able to actively make change by engaging in conversations and by amplifying the voices of people who are at the front lines of the climate crisis. In the past year, I have worked significantly with voter outreach specifically with the ACE Postcard Campaign, and the text banking for the Georgia special election.
IH: How do you balance taking care of yourself and your call to activism?
AS: I find that the best way to take care of myself while also being active in advocacy is to realize that I am only human and that we have to take care of ourselves before we can take on some of the biggest challenges that the world faces.
IH: What is your advice to young people who want to get involved in climate activism?
AS: My advice for young people who want to get involved in climate activism is to start small and know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Getting involved in climate activism can mean doing small things like talking to your friends and family about climate change or it can mean more bigger things like attending a local rally or protest. If the bigger things are intimidating then start with small actions and build from there!
…the best way to take care of myself while also being active in advocacy is to realize that I am only human and that we have to take care of ourselves before we can take on some of the biggest challenges that the world faces.
IH: Are you hopeful about this new Presidential administration? What do you hope gets done at a federal level?
AS: I am hopeful for the future; however, I believe that the new Presidential administration still has a lot to do. I believe that there needs to be a Green New Deal passed at the national level in order for significant change to come. A Green New Deal would create millions of new, sustainable jobs all while tackling the climate crisis with the urgency it requires.
IH: Why is youth climate activism so necessary and how do you get adults to pay attention?
AS: Youth climate activism is necessary because young people are the ones that will be the most impacted by climate change. It is our future and the lives of future generations that are at stake. One of the most significant ways to get adults to pay attention is to start conversations with those closest to us. It may not be easy to get them to listen but we have to try our best to reach out and have empathetic conversations.
IH: Thank you so much for participating in this interview!
All photos courtesy of Ananya Seelam and ACE
Answers may have been edited for length
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