#YouthvGovNC: We are Undeterred

The #YouthvGovNC hearing on February 7, 2018 was a quintessential example of the power of the youth voice in leading the fight against climate change. Three students, Arya Pontula (my sister!), Hallie Turner, and Emily Liu, urged the North Carolina Air Quality Committee of the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) to recommend adoption of a petition to reduce NC carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050.

Arya, Hallie, and Emily were supported not only by the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and Our Children’s Trust, but by youth and adults from around the country who raised their voices in support of change. But, as with any movement, opposition played a part in the story as well. Those who spoke against the petition, as well as many of the commissioners, conveyed beliefs that the reduction of CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 wasn’t feasible and that such a petition would thus be futile in impacting climate change. Unsure of the outcome of such an action, they instead chose inaction, deciding ultimately not to recommend the passage of the petition. But while the disappointment of this decision was evident among the youth petitioners, I was inspired by their poise and perseverance, even in the face of this setback. Standing outside the Archdale building in downtown Raleigh on that cold, rainy afternoon, I was determined to take a stance myself and unite with like-minded youth to eventually convince not only the NC government but also others around the world that climate change is a priority that demands our attention.

The undeterred spirit of the youth petitioners and their supporters instilled within me an intense excitement to be a part of this movement.

Attending the press conference following the hearing was an experience that I will never forget. Despite the committee’s disappointing decision and the rain, the undeterred spirit of the youth petitioners and their supporters instilled within me an intense excitement to be a part of this movement. We acted together, on behalf of something so much greater than ourselves, and we would continue to push on, despite setbacks like this one. I realized that so much work still needs to be done to spread the message of the need to act now against climate change. There is a widespread apathy towards working to prevent climate change. This was reflected in one commissioner’s stance that “the reduction of CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 would be insignificant and would not solve the problem of climate change.”

However, the fear of a small impact should not mean we sit watching idly as climate change destroys the lungs of children and floods coastal communities. It should mean we unite behind petitions like this one and work with our representatives to secure our future. Listening to the hearing and giving my speech as an ACE fellow during the press conference, I was passionate to speak about climate change, a problem that I understood from an early age but did not work to solve until now, and the coalition among youth and adults that must exist to solve this problem. I stood that day, as I do now, in solidarity with the CO2 emissions reduction petition filed by Arya, Emily and Hallie because we youth refuse to stand aside and watch the detrimental effects of climate change on our health, economy and natural resources. The time to act is now!

Sahil Pontula is a 2017-2018 Action Fellow in North Carolina. He attends William G. Enloe High School.