“You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.… We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” — Greta Thunberg, UN Climate Action Summit, September 23, 2019

Nate: Becca, did you hear Greta Thunberg’s speech on climate change and abdication of leadership to the United Nations? What an excellent speaker she is! Young people like her give me hope for the world.

Becca: I heard snippets too and one thing I really like about her in general is that she often uses rhetorical devices you’re not really “supposed” to use when addressing world leaders — she uses “you” and is sort of like, “What the f*** is wrong with you old rich people who are destroying everything; we will never forgive you!” I also am newly inspired by another teen climate activist, Isra Hirsi, who is especially focused on the direct ways that climate change affects people of color, not about, “Oh, we just love our pretty lakes,” but about how the drinking water is poisoned, and how polluted air is killing people. Also, I was so happy to see that Oceanside students and other students locally had walked out of school for the climate strike! But I would never say I’m truly hopeful. At least about humans. What are you specifically hopeful for/about?

Nate: Well, aside from the wisdom of young people, I’m hopeful because Rockland has set some ambitious climate goals and is hiring a sustainability coordinator! At least I thought they were ambitious goals — at the same UN Climate Action Summit, Janet Mills announced an executive order that will commit Maine to being carbon-neutral by 2045, just like Rockland. Now we’re mainstream! This is the second time in my memory when Rockland has anticipated the state government: first on food sovereignty, now on climate goals.

Becca: Also on banning Styrofoam. I feel like we shouldn’t say “anticipated,” because it’s more like we led, and then it’s pretty great that the state is now actually doing some stuff. And yes, I’m really happy about the sustainability coordinator position too, but fundamentally it’s just one tiny corner of the Earth. Even if our efforts don’t do much to stop the overall climate damage, we will at least have someone who can help us prepare for the effects that are unavoidably coming — like when water reaches Tillson Avenue and Main Street, storm surge preparedness, and what will happen to fishing jobs. How is Rockland’s Climate Action Plan going to take into account external greenhouse gas and carbon stuff, like server farms, the production of our phones, flying, etc.?

Nate: Good question! In terms of sustainability, I’d like to think broadly: sustainability is literally the capacity of a system to be sustained. What aspects of Rockland can be sustained? What aspects are limited by natural resources, climate change, economic inequality, etc.?

Becca: And with any given system, do we even want the system that was there to begin with? All signs point to the fact that there is no way we are going to keep below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the Paris agreement wanted. New reports are showing the last five years all hottest on record. I’m not hopeful!

Nate: I try to take a broad historical view of the challenges we face. Yes, climate change is a grave threat that we are manifestly failing to meet. However, we have also faced other grave threats: slavery, the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction; the Holocaust; nuclear apocalypse (an underappreciated threat that we still face, and that is growing again). Going back further, the Black Death killed up to 60 percent of Europe. On a world-historical scale, apart from climate change, we’re doing okay: child mortality is down; war and violence are down; public health and nutrition are up.

Becca: Well, you already know I disagree about these markers and think it depends how the statistics and data are looked at. I also think the climate crisis is above and beyond any of those things. Anyway, here in this tiny town, we are doing some great things and that is good. I decided to focus on the hyper-local in large part because the bigger things I have been involved with often feel more disempowering and insurmountable. Locally, just a few people can have a great impact. But you also see the photo of a lone Greta Thunberg doing a climate strike a year ago, and this year, 4 million people joined her worldwide. Things can change fast!