This article is written by Kendall Kieras, teen activist in the youth climate organisation Zero Hour.
I was supposed to be a theater kid.
If you asked me between the ages of 8 and 13, I’d say exactly who I wanted to be in high school. I wanted the stage, the lights, the starring role. My future was crystal clear. I never intended any of this.
When I joined Zero Hour in April of 2018, I didn’t have any intention of becoming a climate activist. I didn’t know that was a thing you could be. I was just a kid with a Tumblr and a little spare time, unaware of how much joining this movement would change my life, and how much I would give up for it.
Looking back, I mourn everything I’ve given up. I have to schedule time to see my friends around a million conference calls. Saturday nights are spent giving presentations. My best friend is away at climate conferences for weeks at a time. Climate change is not only threatening my future, but it’s also taken over my present day.
The Zero Hour team, my friends, we sacrificed our childhoods to this crisis, because the alternative, a future ravaged by climate change, is so, so much worse.
Many days it feels like we are the modern-day version of “Atlas”, holding up the sky as it threatens to crash on us. We’re the stolen generation, the kids who gave up drivers licenses, football games, and prom to fight the impending doom. It’s a decision we had to make, because if not us, who?
Somewhere in the back of my head, I know I never had a shot at normalcy, that I wouldn’t even know what it looked like. But, in the same place in the back of my head, I am terrified of the future, because it’s one thing to give up your childhood to win a battle. It’s another thing to give it up to lose one.
Childhood vs saving the planet
I’m now in the process of applying to college, a process I have dreamed about for so long, but suddenly, all seems so silly.
I used to daydream of growing up. These days, I am terrified of having to grow up on paper, because I know I’ve already grown up in the fight. Time is my biggest fear: the inevitable 11 years we have to solve the climate crisis. If humanity will be extinct by 2050, what does it matter what I get on the ACT?
Saving the world shouldn’t be depending on children worrying over standardized test scores. I know as much. If politicians worked to declare a climate emergency or pass the Green New Deal, if adults joined in the fight to demand climate justice, maybe I wouldn’t be doing this work at all. If this work has taught me anything, it’s that those supposedly in power are not in power for everyone. For now, fighting it is the only hope I have.
I can still feel the heat of the stage lights, hear the gossip of the hair and makeup room, smell the dust of the costume closet I knew as a child. All those things are now gone. Now I have the laughter of a late night conference call, the chants of a successful rally, the Zero Hour team laughing as we swim at Miami Beach.
I have given up so much for this fight. If victory comes, if the world changes and I was there, it will all be worth it. I hope it will all be worth it.
Time is terrifying, but luckily for me, I still have so much fight to give. And once the fight is over, the first thing on my post climate crisis checklist is to go back to the stage, to sing the solo part I never got to sing. I hope, with every part of me still standing, I will be able to. — Kendall Kieras