My name is Emma Hakanson, and I am 17 years old. To prepare my story, I was asked to remember the moment when I realized that the Earth’s climate is changing and that it is our responsibility to do something. But I could not think of one example because I have always known.
Just as today’s children are known as digital natives, we are also climate change natives. Any elementary school student can tell you to recycle paper and turn off the lights when you leave a room because we are raising children to be more resource efficient and adapted to living on a changing planet. I have been raised with climate change. My family and teachers have always taught me to be knowledgeable about the Earth and what is happening to it, and because of the education I have had regarding a wide range of environmental issues, I have chosen to work towards wildlife conservation as my future career.
What I love about living in Minnesota is the winters. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. One of my favorite winter memories is of my little sister and I rushing outside to play after every time it snowed. We loved the smoothness of the snow just after it had fallen, whether it is soft and fluffy, or a sparkling frozen crust the could almost support our weight if we tread lightly. To make sure we disturb this white blanket as little as possible, our first task was always to create trails to important destinations such as the sled trail and where we would build our forts. Shuffling along strict paths near the edges of the yard, we worked in silence. No one else was crazy enough to be out there in the below-freezing temperatures as the sun was setting; it was only us. It was peaceful to go from start to finish, and once we reached the end we would survey our masterpiece. Later on, we would see tracks and evidence that the animals were using our convenient paths as well, except for the voles who tunnel wherever they please. After we lie down to relax in the near-darkness, our mom would open the window and yell for us, “Are you two okay?” She always seemed to worry that we had frozen to death while she looked away, but our jackets and snowpants kept us warm. Every snowfall meant we had to go out and clear the trails again, but this was necessary to preserve the snow’s smooth perfection in the center of the yard.
I am hopeful, but also concerned, for the future. Winters are warming today and do not often have the same level of snowfall as in past years, and it melts too quickly. It is scary to realize how the environment and communities are going to be impacted by climate change, and in ways that we can’t even predict. This will make my career dream even harder to achieve. Global climate change translates to changes on a local scale. The well-being of one ecosystem is linked to the stability of dozens of others, making it an indicator of the chain reaction that can occur. Similarly, I know that my actions, along with the help of other leaders, can lead to a chain of smarter decisions, solutions and innovations.
Some people, including a few of my own family members, still see climate change as a political issue and therefore do not believe the science behind it. It’s not. The science and the facts confirm that our planet is experiencing global changes on a scale never seen before, and the data is speaking loudly here in Minnesota too. I am speaking today on behalf of myself and other youth who are inheriting this planet, and it is time for all decision makers to understand and care about the weight of this issue in both our community and the world. We need everyone to come together and acknowledge the problem so we can discuss how to best resolve it. The winters my sister and I have experienced are already changing into something new, and together, we must change as well in order to protect our communities.