Earth Day Has Passed. Now What?

We must make climate justice a priority year-round. Here's how

By Sophia Kianni

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, youth climate activists organized the largest online mass mobilization in history. Over a three-day period beginning on Wednesday, April 22, we coordinated a steady stream of celebrity appearances, climate activist lectures, and musical performances. We were joined by politicians such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), all of whom encouraged viewers to vote and call their state senators. We called on our government to deliver a people’s bailout, a Green New Deal, and for land to be returned to Indigenous peoples.

During the breaks between my own Earth Day schedule and tasks, I scrolled through Instagram, where my friends were posting inspirational messages like “save the earth” and “we need to protect our home,” alongside vacation photos and travel inspiration. And then the day was over. I woke up the next morning and checked my feed, where it seemed like plenty of people went back to their usual posting habits. The message was crystal clear: Earth Day was over. So now what?

Climate change disproportionately affects women and people of color, and I have always felt that it is my responsibility to be a part of the climate solution. Ever since middle school, when I saw how environmental injustice and climate change were affecting my relatives in Iran, I have worked to educate those around me. When I ask my friends how they felt about the climate crisis, many of them express that while they want to be a part of the solution, they often  have no idea where to start. I had the same feeling at one point — filled with support for the climate movement but unsure of which steps I could take to act upon my passion. Over the past year organizing with Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and This Is Zero Hour, I have come to learn that there are things that everyone can do to help play their part in saving the planet.

Vote green by supporting elected officials who believe in climate change and are willing to act.

A lot of power to act on the climate crisis lies in lawmakers, who have the ability to pass comprehensive climate legislation. This does not absolve personal responsibility — and limiting your own consumption and recycling when and wherever you can is always a good move — but the truth of the matter is that the climate movement will see no progress unless we pass effective legislation that limits or offsets these emissions.

Over the past 30 years, Congress refused to act over six times on the climate crisis. This included failing a bill that would have set a cap on almost every fossil fuel power plant and manufacturer.

Many of these bills have attempted to hold corporations accountable for their pollution, and this is important, because 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions.

To get climate legislation passed, it is crucial to support elected officials who believe in climate justice, looking at the climate crisis as a human rights issue. Since climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income communities, solutions must take into account the social and ethical implications of our actions.

Students who cannot vote in elections can lobby their members of Congress or volunteer to help with political campaigns. Urge your local officials to take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge: to not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from the PACs, lobbyists, or SEC-named executives of fossil fuel companies.

Use your money consciously.

Conspicuous consumption is the concept of consumers buying more than they actually need, which leads to pollution and waste, adversely affecting future generations. This impacts everything from buying things you don’t really need, to buying items that were all but made to fall apart.

That includes fast fashion — cheap clothing that is mass produced to meet trends. One study found that British people spend up to 2.7 billion pounds on clothing that they will only wear once. There’s no denying that it can be fun to show a new outfit off on Instagram, but the industry’s impact is undeniable: Not only are many fast-fashion workers paid little for hours of work in often dangerous conditions, the industry produces a large amount of textile waste, which causes major environmental damage due to chemicals and dyes.

The fashion industry emits more carbon waste than both international flights and maritime shipping combined. It is important for consumers to vote with their dollars and support businesses that actively work to minimize their carbon footprint. Websites such as Good On You, provide ratings and data on how sustainable companies are for thousands of brands. You can also do your best to support businesses that have divested from fossil fuels.

Join a mass movement.

I work with Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and This Is Zero Hour, all of which have both national and local footprints. A reliable source to find local climate groups is the U.S. Climate Network, an online organizing platform that has a list of different climate organizations you can volunteer for.

If there are no climate groups at your school or in your area, then you can also start your own climate organization. When I noticed that the American climate movement seemed to lack accessibility to those who don’t speak English, I decided to start my own climate organization, Climate Cardinals, to translate climate information into different languages.

Another form of environmental activism is participating in strikes and other acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. In the past, monumental movements including the Civil Rights and Women's Suffrage movements relied heavily on nonviolent civil disobedience in order to sway public sentiment, which helped pass the laws to enact change. The climate movement is following in those footsteps: Pressure from activists has caused multiple countries (including the U.K., Portugal, and Canada) to officially declare a state of climate emergency.

Without a critical mass of people advocating for “no more business as usual” there will be no pressure on elected officials to act. As stated by former UN secretary Christiana Figueres, “Civil disobedience is not only a moral choice, it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics.” Participating in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, such as strikes or protests, is key to bringing about substantive environmental change.

Even during this era of social distancing, it is possible to participate in the digital climate strike by posting pictures of your sign online and joining mass Zoom calls.

Educate yourself and others.

In order to gain a critical mass of green voters, it is crucial for people to understand the threat of climate change. If your school system does not already educate the student body on the climate crisis, you can take it upon yourself to persuade your school board to implement climate justice education. A good first step to take is to contact an adult within the school system. A teacher in Sonoma County, California, actually helped launch the Schools for Climate Action campaign with the help of his students. With the right support, any student can assist in launching a campaign within their school system.

In order to persuade people, you need to be able to articulate the dangers climate change poses. For instance, understand the crucial IPCC report and what will happen if global warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius. For more information, Extinction Rebellion also has a highly informative presentation on the subject.

Knowledge is power, and by wielding these statistics you can clearly articulate to your friends and family why we must take action on the climate crisis.

Sophia Kianni is an 18-year-old climate and environmental activist working with movements across national and international levels, including Fridays for Future, This Is Zero Hour, and Extinction Rebellion.