As a sophomore in high school in 2012, I envisioned Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid with glee. I saw Hillary sweeping in and wiping the Republican opponents off the map, bringing another eight term Democratic presidency with her. I was ready for Clinton. I never thought that less than four years later I would be standing on the rope line in a New Hampshire town hall, camera poised, about to question Clinton’s climate policy and the donations the Clinton campaign had received from fossil fuel lobbyists. But there I was with other members of Bowdoin Climate Action, my campus’s fossil fuel divestment campaign, volunteering with 350 Action to confront our likely Democratic nominee on her connections to the fossil fuel industry.
A lot changed for me between these two election cycles. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, my school was overrun by five feet of water, and several of my friends were unable to live in their homes for months. As natural disasters increase in frequency and scale do to climate weirding, a result of climate change, there will be many places and many people worldwide who cannot handle these disasters as well as New York could. I realized that if climate change was negatively affecting my life, then it was having real and everyday consequences for less privileged people all over the world. Caught in the mindset that, as a young person, my only impact could be in my home, I pushed my parents to get solar panels and urged my friends to stop eating meat.
But as I came to recognize climate change as the greatest threat facing my generation, I saw that personal change could not solve this crisis and could not bring down the fossil fuel industry. I grew increasingly frustrated that my impact was limited to the classroom and to my small personal actions. When I came to Bowdoin, I saw that as a student I had a role to play in stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry, by taking action on my campus for divestment, and by challenging my political leaders to take a strong stance on the climate. Personal changes will not stop fossil fuels from being burned; institutional change is needed to erode the economic and political support that the fossil fuel industry enjoys, and prevent a climate crisis.
Going under cover at a Marco Rubio rally and confronting him on his climate policy was easy. Going under cover and confronting Hillary Clinton about the donations she received from fossil fuel lobbyists was, for someone who believes in the absolute necessity of electing a Democrat as president in November, far harder. It was far harder, but far more important, for Hillary Clinton is riding on a wave of Democratic voters to the White House, and it is crucial that we do not settle for an unambitious climate policy. It is crucial that Hillary understands how important an issue this is for voters nationwide, and as a young person it is important for myself and others to have our voices heard and our priorities understood in this election.
Working with members of 350 Action in New Hampshire, a state where politicians are particularly available to the public, I came to see the power of our movement and the power of young people taking action in this political cycle. At the center of our action, and at the center of the climate justice movement, are a value for community, people, and the environment; a commitment to diversity and climate justice; and a belief in the power of youth and political engagement. The activists I met in New Hampshire, and my fellow Bowdoin students, spoke to some of my core values, and inspired me to become active in this primary cycle.
As this election cycle has progressed, action has become more imperative. The US is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide—we cannot afford to have a president in 2017 who does not support keeping fossil fuels in the ground and a transition to renewable energy. With the Clean Power Plan stalled in the courts, the next president will oversee its implementation—or not. That is why I birddogged Hillary in New Hampshire, and that is why I led a team of Bowdoin Climate Action members to Boston to birddog her again. That is why students across the country have been birddogging with 350action for months. Because we need to take action to ensure that those politicians who are representing us and for whom we are voting, intend to make the climate a central policy point. We need to take action, as young people, to ensure that our future is safe and to ensure that fossil fuels remain in the ground.
Emily Ruby, from Brooklyn, New York, is a first-year at Bowdoin College.