On an unseasonably warm day for February in Boston hundreds of scientists and over a thousand supporters gathered on Copley Square for a rally to #StandUpforScience while the annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) took place nearby. Scientists in white lab coats, including Harvard Science Historian Noami Oreskes, called for scientists and supporters to push back against policies that ignore science, threaten research, and imperil our future. ACE Boston Action Fellow Chiamaka Oblio stepped up to the microphone and spoke about how science education can empower her generation in the fight for climate justice. Her speech is below:
Hi everyone! I’m Chiamaka Obilo, and you can call me Chia. I’m 17, a senior at Boston Latin Academy, and an Action Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education, or ACE. ACE is a national organization dedicated to educating youth about the science of climate change and empowering them to take action.
I want you to take a few steps in my shoes. Are you ready?
Try to remember the end of your eighth-grade year. It’s sunny outside, you’re happy, and even greater, in a few months, you’ll finally be in high school. Life just couldn’t get any better, right? Well, at least that’s what you thought.
If powerful interests choose to hide the truth about climate change, we must go directly to the people.
You actually have severe scoliosis, and on this particular day of July, you’re walking out of the hospital after recovering from a 10-hour correction surgery. You relearned how to walk, how to sit, how to get dressed, and even how to use the bathroom. Sure, you’re having some back spasms, lost a lot of weight, and you suddenly grew from 5’3” to 5’8”, but with the metal rods in your spine, no one can deny that you’re now a bionic human.
As you marvel at your new height and your new posture, you take a step outside. You breathe in, expecting to inhale your first breath of fresh air in a while, but what enters is exhaust fumes and construction dust. A year later, when I tested my lung capacity, it was less than half of what is considered normal and I wondered how it might be different if my recovering body could breathe in clean air.
I was compelled to fight climate change because I realized that it negatively affected the most delicate aspect of my being: my health. Burning fossil fuels is the number one cause of air pollution and the main driver of climate change, and hot weather makes air pollution worse. Understanding this connection inspired me to become a climate activist. I realized that this knowledge is empowering for my generation and that it must be shared.
The beauty and the gospel of science should flow beyond the walls of research facilities, and into the bounds of community centers, hospital waiting rooms, and social media.
I am fortunate, in fact, lucky, to have encountered the science behind climate change, but learning such an important truth should not be a matter of luck. As I stand before you, an aspiring scientist, I urge you to expand the boundaries of your mission to include education. The effects of climate change will transcend generations, and my generation must be equipped to confront this challenge.
When misleading, “alternative facts” are being presented by our highest form of government, we cannot expect the science to stand alone. If powerful interests choose to hide the truth about climate change, we must go directly to the people. The beauty and the gospel of science should flow beyond the walls of research facilities, and into the bounds of community centers, hospital waiting rooms, and social media.
We must invest in the scientific education of our younger generation, especially in public schools across the country. We must launch large-scale campaigns to ally with youth, go door to door spreading the truth, and in this new era of activism, we must make our voices heard and make our presence (along with the facts), visible to the citizens of the world.
Our work does not stop there. It is necessary that we ally with movements like Black Lives Matter because we cannot ignore the fact that climate change is as much a social justice issue as it is a scientific one. Low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by climate change and pollution. Even I noticed that when I realized that half of my elementary school classmates had asthma.
Given the recent turn of events, I ask that the scientific community does not despair, but that it’s invigorated to empower citizens and noncitizens alike to take action on this dire cause. The good news of science is not exclusive to the elite, and thus, its message must permeate throughout the masses and empower everyone from the youth to the elderly. If there is one thing that you take from my speech today, I hope it’s an understanding that despite our great strides in research, our biggest fight is for the minds of the citizens of the world and the next generation.