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OPINION: Climate Chat 

Two participants in the Richmond Climate March from different generations talk about their hopes moving forward.

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Editor’s Note: This is a commentary written after the Global Climate Strike held about a month ago in Richmond.

Addie Johnson, 23, is an environmental activist and graphic designer whose research focuses on interdependent urban planning and behavioral environmental economics. She holds a weekly Climate Action Circle meeting and is busy planning another Climate Strike in Monroe Park to be held Dec. 6. Her email is johnsonma42@vcu.edu.

Chris Wiegard, 63, is a public librarian and climate activist who spoke at the event downtown a month ago. He is working on plans for climate lobbying in Washington on Nov. 12. His email is Chriswiegard@hotmail.com. Both are members of Citizens Climate Lobby and expect to be at the Nov. 9 meeting of that group at Belmont Library at 12:30 p.m.

Chris Wiegard:  Addie, I want to thank you for enlisting me in the Richmond Climate March on Sept. 20. It was fun for me, and it felt like it accomplished something too. I had a lot of great climate conversations that day with young people

I am thrilled by people like Greta Thunberg, and the hundreds of young people, including yourself, who I saw at the Richmond Climate March. I know that young people are much more aware of the climate crisis than most people my age. But how did you get involved?

Addie Johnson: I, too, was incredibly excited by the strike turnout numbers. I could feel the whole city vibrating with energy and an immense sense of hope for the future. Thanks for coming to it. 

I was not always a climate activist. My turning point happened when I was participating in an effort to design a plastic single-use cup to be more eco-friendly. Ironically enough, the challenge made me realize that plastic cups were not the issue — they were just byproducts of fossil fuel overuse. To actually fix the root of the problem, we need our economy to shift its fundamental paradigm so that it becomes less carbon-intensive while simultaneously becoming more equitable.

Wiegard: So do you like the House of Representatives’ proposed Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act?  I really want a price on carbon so that renewable energy will be able to replace fossil fuels. And I also want the money to be given back, because I do not want low-income Americans to carry an unfair financial burden.
When I spoke to young people at the march, I was surprised by their interest in carbon pricing. But I know that there is a spectrum of opinion in young people regarding how to fix the climate crisis, and I would love to know your perspective.

Addie: I love that the bill is a bipartisan solution aimed at taxing highly polluting activities while sending the collected money to the American people to spend as they desire. As the official lobby line goes, the proposal would inspire market-driven innovation and entrepreneurship of clean energy technologies that will cut greenhouse gas emissions and establish a healthier, more secure, and flourishing nation for future generations. I’m all for it.

Wiegard: You noticed in my speech at the end of the March that I referred to climate depression as something that is intergenerational. I talked about becoming a grandparent, but also about the fear of having grandchildren who don’t have a safe future.

My generation bears a deep guilt, but our response to climate change still divides us politically. Do you also experience feelings of rage and despair?  If so, how do you deal with these thoughts? 

Johnson: Absolutely. I remember lying awake on the floor of my room for weeks on end, being paralyzed to the point of panic. I felt so many terrible emotions: fear, anger, and the deepest sadness I have ever known.

The best and only way I know how to deal with these thoughts is to keep going and to throw myself fully into helping where I can in my small community. The beauty of working with the climate lobby and other environmental groups like Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, Extinction Rebellion and Sunrise Movement is that it gives people an opportunity and a voice to actually fight for something measurable and attainable that could lessen the terror and improve all of our lives.

Wiegard: Like you, I throw myself into this work, with all my heart, because work is what gets things done. But what do you see in our future? Do you think that public opinion will continue to move in our direction? Do you think we will finally get our carbon-fee bill written into a law that would move us away from fossil fuels?

Johnson: We are in the age of a new generation fed up with complacency, a generation that prioritizes the greater good over greed and the individual. And I believe with every bone in my body that this generation will channel its collective frustration into productive action. This is a powerful movement. If we can demand transformational change and create a political leadership that is committed to fighting the ecological crisis, we will establish the foundation of an even more peaceful, prosperous and equitable world.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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