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Lamiya Cotton

Building Resilience, One Word at a Time: A Youth’s Perspective on Climate Advocacy

Climate change never made much sense to me. The language, the rhetoric, the news—it all felt so overwhelming. Whenever I would try to be involved in climate conversations, I consistently found myself trying to figure out what it meant, and how I can make a difference.

I’ve heard people talk about the dangers of climate change and how “the youth are the future” for enacting change. But I wasn’t sure how to get involved and my place in an environment that is changing. With my background in fashion, social media, and marketing, I wasn’t sure of my place in environmental issues.

However, my short internship at Greenbelt Alliance has taught me that it’s okay to be uncomfortable when your interests evolve, and that asking questions can teach you a lot.

At first, the internship was a little frightening. I felt awkward in my first few meetings when I wasn’t sure how to contribute or what some of the terminology meant. Not only that, it was a busy time for the organization. I joined Greenbelt Alliance just before the launch of their Bay Area Resilience Hotspots initiative that highlights the locations across the Bay Area most vulnerable to climate impacts and with opportunities for climate resilience.

I figured, if I don’t understand some of the project’s terminology, maybe I can help define them for other people too.

One of the main projects I worked on was launching a series of videos that articulates land use terminology that’s used in the Resilience Hotspots project. Grappling with new concepts in a whole new field can be challenging, and my experience has only underscored how important it is to make language and concepts accessible to a general public. I believe being able to break down terms and get to the root of what they mean would enable people like me to learn more and get engaged!

They say the youth are the future, and that the younger generations will keep the world moving forward. As a young person, this sentiment only adds to the intense societal pressures of wanting to be the change I want to see in the world. Sometimes there is an overwhelming fear and question of how to enact this change that is expected from us. If we place youth at the forefront of the future, there needs to be clear outlets and communication on how we can make change, so that our generation is empowered to build a more climate resilient world.

As my role with Greenbelt Alliance comes to a close, I’ve realized that fashion and climate change are related. I’ve learned how fast fashion is a major contributor to climate change. The fashion industry has impacts on pollution, emissions and waste generation and plays a huge role in taxing our environment. While I love fashion, making more sustainable consumer decisions can impact the world I call home. And communicating about these sustainable choices can inspire others to do the same.

Throughout my Greenbelt Alliance experience this past month, I’ve learned more about the importance of effective communication about our world’s intersecting issues. By learning to communicate and ask questions, the youth can better understand risks and opportunities for change. As a result of my internship, I’m more willing to advocate for a more sustainable world.

Climate change is not a future issue—it’s happening in the here and now. As my internship progressed, I began to see climate resilience as an opportunity to get involved in solutions, in any way we can. I feel hopeful in knowing that even if you place your focus onto something meaningful for a few weeks, you are making a difference. Each conversation, social media post, and decision to live more sustainably together is another step towards a future for all of us.

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