About the Author: Kathleen Eagen works in the State Department's Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science.
Today is International Youth Day, and this year's theme is appropriately titled, "Youth and Climate Change: A Time for Action."
A few weeks ago the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Claudia A. McMurray, spoke to a group of about 400 high school students. These kids were from a number of different countries, as well as throughout the United States, and were one of several groups this summer that have come to the State Department to hear policy speeches on the U.S. government's top issues. Assistant Secretary McMurray highlighted our Bureau's work on climate change, illegal wildlife trafficking and illegal logging. She spoke about the U.S. commitment to developing a global solution to climate change that is both environmentally effective and economically sustainable, an agreement that would include participation from all major economies, including the United States.
She also spoke about U.S. efforts to stop the illegal trade in wildlife trafficking, through the promotion of strong law enforcement and stopping the demand of these products. Finally, she addressed U.S. government's efforts to preserve the vast biodiversity of the world's forests through a number of initiatives aimed at preventing deforestation and preserving the natural environment of the world's "lungs."
When the Assistant Secretary concluded her remarks, I wondered how the students would respond. I soon learned that they were not only interested in the issues -- asking tough, probing questions -- but they also weren't afraid to voice their opinions on how the United States and the world were doing on tackling the difficult environmental questions of the day. These kids weren't just savvy about the issues, they were concerned about how the issues would create an impact on the world around them. From questions about illegal logging, to the possibilities of the future of space exploration, no environmental topic lay unturned. But perhaps the question that struck me the most was a basic one, "What can we do to help stop global warming?"
I was heartened by the questions posed by the coming generation to our Assistant Secretary. The mere fact that these students are actively engaged in thinking about the issue answers the question posed above. It's the first step. What can we do to stop global warming? Think about your impact on the world, ask tough questions, become engaged in the debate, and never stop striving to find a way forward. Perhaps it's as simple as making the decision to walk instead of driving a car or installing energy efficient lightbulbs in your home. All these small efforts can add up when the world works together to tackle this global issue.
There is no magic bullet for addressing the climate change issue. It is, by nature, complex and difficult. But that doesn't mean we can’t work to find a solution. Now, more than ever, the global community has the opportunity to work together to tackle the problem of environmental degradation and climate change. We owe it to ourselves, and the next generation, to save and preserve this Earth.