Elijah Ruby is a senior at South Broward High School. He was briefly suspended in mid-September for distributing fliers in school about the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20.
Throughout high school, I’ve been taught about the negative effect humans are having on our environment. My marine science class detailed the role that increasing carbon emissions plays in ocean acidification and the harm that causes to marine life.
My environmental science class stressed the grave consequences of impacts like sea-level rise that are already occurring in the wake of the quickening climate catastrophe. I also learned that we continue to emit dangerous carbon pollution into the atmosphere and how it affects the health of ecosystems and human populations.
That knowledge comes with a price – it can create a significant emotional and psychological impact on students. Young people now understand how these important issues will shape their future. It is clear the planet’s climate is changing and how human activities dependent on fossil fuels are largely responsible. Ultimately, the most crucial lesson is that humans are the only ones who can slow or reverse the impending climate catastrophe.
It should be no surprise that young people, who will inherit this impending global disaster, often feel anxious or depressed when they think about the enormity of the problem. Climate anxiety is a very real and well documented phenomenon.
Youth – whether you are Greta Thunberg or just a Broward County student like me – are thus confronted with two choices. You can either let the anxiety consume you to the point where you feel paralyzed with worry or you can move to action.
It helps to go beyond just worrying about the issue. It helps to actually do something. Working to solve the problem lessens the overwhelming sense of burden we feel.
That is why schools should encourage students to act. Being active in your community is an important part of the education process, but given that our planet is faced with an issue so large that doing the opposite, not taking action, becomes unethical and even immoral.
Some scientists say that we have 11 years to decarbonize. That will require significant economic and political changes to avert irreversible ecological devastation. The issue goes way beyond pocketbook issues, like the prospect of paying more for flood insurance. On the local level, some neighborhoods in South Florida may be uninhabitable in 50 years.
This being said, students should be encouraged to organize and act. It’s understandable that school district rules restrict the distribution of materials that are inappropriate or violent.
However, efforts with a positive educational purpose should be allowed. School districts should encourage efforts to protect our future, and they should more actively support and work with students rather than punishing those trying to make a difference. Time is running out to avert the climate catastrophe, and it’s the youth who will be left to clean up the mess.
I call on young people everywhere to organize, to protest, demand action from politicians, and engage in peaceful civil disobedience.
We’re all paying for a crisis caused by the fossil fuel industry. So, we must demand policies to end subsidies for polluters and we must jail those seen as particularly responsible for this crisis.
We have no choice but to move to a carbon-free economy. There is no time to waste. We, as young people, must unite and press for solutions to avert this catastrophe. But for the deception by polluters, we would have gone down that path decades ago.
It’s time to act like your life depends on it, because it does.
Ruby said he was initially told by an assistant principal that the suspension would cost him his “senior privileges,” including attendance at senior homecoming and the prom. Ruby and the school district now say that he will be able to attend those functions.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.