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Gave Up Not Caring

Me and my KQED advisor, Senior Science Reporter Kat Snow

I knew I wanted to study marine biology after I was stung by a jellyfish off the coast of Italy in third grade. I later found out how it stung me when visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the fact that a creature without a brain could do that fascinated me. The passion drove me to apply for college under a marine biology major. I chose University of Oregon because it has a great marine biology program... and a great journalism program: my other passion.

I spent my childhood exploring the interesting world beneath the waves. My parents would have to drag me out of exhibits at the aquarium because I could stare at each species and research them for hours -- luckily I was able to intern at the Monterey Bay Aquarium during high school summers. I loved snorkeling, kayaking, tide pooling, boogie boarding, sand crab digging...basically any excuse I had to become one with the ocean or shoreline, I took.

However, I kept finding myself running into all the environmental issues that harm my beautiful ocean, especially when I interned at the aquarium, which has a large emphasis on marine conservation. Climate change was by far the scariest issue, so I kept clear of that topic for the most part, until college. That’s where I became best friends -- and eventually housemates -- with an environmental studies major from Foster City. She helped me realize that if I avoid looking at it, it won’t go away.

Hence my new life motto: I’m going to do what I can, and if the world still goes to sh*t, I won’t feel guilty for not trying.

Fast forward and I’m a summer intern on the KQED science and environmental desk in San Francisco tasked with producing content for a climate change-based program. Working to produce content for This Moment on Earth has forced me out of my collegic bubble where everyone had to take some introductory science course. Not everyone was raised to “leave things cleaner than they found it.” I interviewed people outside of the Monterey Bay Aquarium who didn’t believe climate change was happening or believed it and didn’t see it as a problem. For those who did, the interviews often veered toward philosophical journeys, debating on what was the largest cause of climate change or what would be the right direction to solve the problem. Was it too late to make a big impact?

Every person I interviewed said it takes a lot to be environmentally friendly. Poet and dancer Annie Kahane described it as swimming upstream, meaning, the way our society is set up doesn’t line up smoothly with a sustainable lifestyle. You’re expected to use the plastic bags to collect tomatoes at a grocery store. Many items today are made to wear and tear so we continue to buy new things, a sneaky production method called planned obsolescence. And next week, I’m going to drive ten hours up to Eugene, Oregon for my last year of undergrad. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of guilt: constantly using up resources and producing greenhouse gases in the pursuit of creating a more environmentally friendly world.

“An iPhone is not a sustainable object,” Santa Cruz fungi naturalist Christian Schwartz said during our interview. “The industries that make the luxuries of our lives are not sustainable, and yet I take advantage of them all the time. And I’ve got to enjoy my time on this planet. I can’t be wringing my hands every time I make a decision about what I’m going to consume. It would be easier if everyone stopped consuming an unsustainable product at once because then you wouldn’t look over and see what you’re missing out on. It feels difficult to not be a part of your culture.”

Individual action is still immensely important, especially when it eventually leads to a movement, but policy is how you get everyone to stop doing something all at once. Being an environmentally conscientious individual shouldn’t just be left to tree-huggers. It’s practical for anyone who wants to have kids or cares about the economy or likes food or wants to stay living in the same place for a while. Schwartz suggested in the interview that topics like environmentalism, conservation, and sustainability are fundamentally “human-centric endeavors.” I hadn’t thought about that much before, but it makes sense when you think about it. The Earth was here before us and will be here long after us, but if we want to see what the future of the planet will look like and keep our species going, we need to keep a balanced environment for us.

“It’s not whether or not the Earth is sustainable. It’ll find its balance; it always finds its balance,” Schwartz said. “But I want to be here! I want humans to experience it. I want people to have access to this wealth. We are these amazing, thinking, creating, artistic apes and I would like for that to continue. I would like for civilization and science and art to continue surrounded by biodiversity.”

I find myself agreeing with this sentiment. It’s scary to think that something as powerful as the human race might “blink out” in the history of the Earth, but it’s a possibility. I think humanity is continuously molding itself and I don’t want all of this progress to disappear. I want to have kids someday, and for my kids to be able to have kids, and so on. I think if more people thought of climate change as a humanitarian dilemma, rather than a nature-loving one, then more might get done.

I want climate change to be as common as a conversation topic as the daily weather report. But constantly pummeling audiences with bad news can numb people to the problem. The KQED science desk is forever finding the right combination of crisis and hopeful news to fill their page. If the news becomes to depressing, then people avoid it because it makes them feel hopeless. If news is always about good things, then some worry that people feel a sense of urgency. So we want to light a fire under people’s butts, but also tell them where the water is to put it out. This is a balance I will continue to strive for as I finish my schooling and enter the workforce full-time.

And I’ve found in my other major, environmental science, scientists experience a similar problem when striking the balance between maintaining a factual line of work while also making statements that instigate action. This is why it is common for scientists to say “but still more research needs to be done” and stay from saying hyperbolic statements like “climate change caused Hurricane Sandy.” Granted, more research is always needed, but if we always wait for more research to come out, nothing will get done.

We are now in an era where the validity of both journalists and the scientific community is put into question by people of great authority. Journalists are deligitamized by the term “fake news” and facts are being treated like mere opinions. Therefore, it’s important for these two fields to work together to make change happen. And that is where I find my niche.

So I’m happy that I decided not to hide from climate change anymore. Yes, I think studying and reporting on it has increased my blood pressure, and there are some days when I give in to unsustainable habits like buying food wrapped in plastic or driving from south bay to SF twice a week for a summer internship. But I’m hoping that by reporting these issues and being honest about my own struggles, I will encourage more and more people to put climate change higher on their list of things to worry about.

Only when we solve the problem, like the world did with the Ozone Hole in the 1980s, will I be able to study jellyfish in peace.

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