Santa Monica College Hosts Youth for Climate Action Panel

The hubbub of conversation filling a dark theater in Santa Monica College (SMC) died out, replaced by the voice of sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, in a video of her speech at the December 2018 U.N. Climate Summit. “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children,” she said, prompting a visibly emotional reaction from the audience.

The students and activists were gathered in the Theater Arts Main Stage at SMC for the school’s Youth For Climate Action Panel, organized on May 9. Patrick Hentschel, an SMC student, served as moderator of the event, where four panel members were present. They included Alex Schwartz, the chair of SMC’s Psychology Department, who teaches an Environmental Psychology class, and D Garcia, a spokesperson for a youth-based climate action organization called the Sunrise Movement. In addition, Walker Foley and Alexandra Nagy, both senior organizers of Food & Water Watch, were on the panel. 

Ferris Kawar, the Director of Sustainability at SMC, opened the event by saying, “People are not ready for what’s coming and they really need to understand that we will have a very different future for all of us if we keep going on this path.”

Introductory videos, including Thunberg’s, were shown. The video detailed that citizens of the world do not have time to wait, as it is already known that there will be at least a four degree Celcius international rise in temperature by 2050: “Four degrees warmer is approximately one ice age in the other direction.” 

Introductions of the panel members were then made, each detailing their primary concerns within the climate activism movement. Schwartz detailed a few issues that deter anti-climate change activism: “Our brains are good at taking immediate actions towards stimuli that are present, that are visible,” he said. When it comes to climate change, Schwartz said, “even worse than it being far away, it doesn’t have a face.” 

Nagy’s environmental focus is primarily on eliminating fracking in the state of California and beyond, and both Nagy and Foley made sure to emphasize that California has recently decided to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry, a huge accomplishment for the two, throughout the event. “We’ve known about this for decades. It’s not for a lack of knowledge, it’s not for a lack of science, that we haven’t done anything,” Nagy said.

The purpose of the event was to bring conversation about climate activism to the stage at SMC (literally). “We’re looking for people like yourselves, in your community, and telling you that it’s okay to believe in yourself,” Foley said. In that spirit, the floor opened up for a Q&A. 

Strong opinions were present in the crowd, but the student-asked question that sparked the most conversation referred to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report report, which detailed that, “100 Corporations are responsible for 71 percent of global pollution.” The student went on to say, “I just don’t understand why we’re talking about making personal sacrifices.”

Nagy seemed to agree, and said that, “a revolution includes overthrowing our fossil fuel Capitalist overlords.” Schwartz and Hentschel debated whether the discussion of minimal community-based actions and that of action from bigger corporations need to be mutually exclusive. The two settled the matter by saying that both are important topics, though Hentschel said that, when it comes to big corporations, “The difference in many ways is that they have the bigger button.”

SMC will offer free courses in sustainability this summer, and already offers a number of courses related to environmental topics.