I remember being 8 years old and feeling the shock of learning that the Perfect-Earth-As-I-Knew-It was not fixed, was not a permanent Garden of Eden achieved after millenniums of shifting continents. I remember absorbing the dizzying knowledge that the Earth was still changing; was, indeed, alive.
I remember confusion in fourth grade after learning about how terrible cars were for the environment. I couldn't wrap my 9-year-old brain around this absurdity — were we not smart enough to find another way?
I remember being sick to my stomach in fifth grade after researching acid rain for a science fair project. I remember the sharp pang as my junior high peers laughed, "Who cares about global warming? I won't even be alive then!"
In a high school science class, I watched "An Inconvenient Truth" and was unable to sleep for days. I remember fellow teenagers whispering headlines in homeroom: "If we don't do so-and-so within the next four years, it's over," "If so-and-so doesn't get passed, it's over."
For a while in my high school, it became cool to know these things. It was cool to announce Doomsday. "It's over" was the theme. "It's over" was unacceptable.
When I was 17, I organized a benefit concert for the Environmental Defense Fund. It felt embarrassing, because it was so not enough. A classical pianist, I got my pianist friends together and we booked a church with a grand piano and we printed off facts, fliers and handouts. On the day of the concert, a tornado was hitting the ground miles away. Severe weather was spiraling across Minnesota; winds were strong, roads were closed. I played Chopin's "Fantasy" to a smattering of people while piercing sirens sounded outside. Ninety percent of the papers we'd printed got thrown into a recycling bin. The irony was poignant.
It's one decade later. The Trump administration is only a few days old. I joined the Women's March in New York City, where concerns about the health of our planet played a significant role. Small children with handmade signs walked together chanting, "Climate change is real! Climate change is real!" It would have been adorable had it not been so eerily powerful.
I'm still feeling like 9-year-old me, unable to wrap my brain around new facts: The Environmental Protection Agency can't tweet? The president says environmentalism is "out of control"? We're back to running the pipelines through the Dakotas? What?
It is as astounding to me now as it was when I was in grade school that caring for our environment is perceived as a partisan issue. Clean energy is vital to everyone. In a divided country, it seems that at the very least we could unite in the desire to have a healthy planet and a livable world for future generations. Thankfully, this sentiment is at the heart of Citizens' Climate Lobby, which is the most hopeful experience I've had as an Obama-spoiled young person since the election.
Citizens' Climate Lobby is fighting for the passage of carbon fee and dividend legislation, and is responsible for the formation of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives, which currently consists of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. This bipartisan legislative effort supports passage of a revenue-neutral carbon tax with 100 percent of the net revenue returned to households. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will save lives, it will boost the economy and a revenue-neutral carbon fee already has the support of Democrats and Republicans alike (yes, even Rex Tillerson!).
Pushing for a revenue-neutral carbon fee is the most effective path to environmental gains under the current administration. If you're feeling paralyzed by the number of issues you care about that are under attack, I urge you, truly, seriously: begin here. Without clean energy, there won't be anything else to fight for.
-Lillie Gardner, doctorate student in musical arts in piano performance at UConn
This article was originally published in The Hartford Courant on February 1, 2017.