Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day around the world. While we may not all be able to go outside and participate in ways we have in the past, there are many ways that we are all connecting, contributing, and digitally working to remove our carbon footprint.
Bri Thompson from New York is a cast member of A 2020 and Yassine Chentouf from Bermuda traveled in both B 2019 and A 2020. Their tour was cancelled early due to COVID-19. (Learn more about our Up with People Emergency GoFundMe here). In doing their part to be a part of a larger conversation, they have opened up a dialogue based on a recent question that was posed to the cast from one their own travelers:
How can we come out of the coronavirus more environmentally conscious?
As part of our program, we hold various workshops to help encourage young adults to find their voice as a positive agent for change. We empower our travelers to be able to have conversations about their own beliefs in thoughtful, constructive ways. We enable every person the opportunity to speak their mind freely while remaining respectful towards others who may not necessarily agree. Because let’s face it, at the end of the day, not everyone will agree. But we provide a safe space to grow, learn, and experiment with their thoughts, views, and experiences as they adapt to various changes throughout their life.
Now, we are providing an opportunity to let Bri and Yassine to share their voices from two different parts of the world on the subject of climate change and how they believe we can better the environment after quarantine is over.
So, let the conversation begin.
Guest Post from Bri Thompson, New York, Cast A 2020:
Right now, our world feels like it is coming to an end. Everything that we consider “normal” or “safe” has been stripped away. Every movement and touch is in question, every piece of food is in limited stock, and every available job is praised and wanted and feared in equal part. Everything is harder.
What’s worse is we can see the positive impact our absence is having on this world. Don’t get me wrong, it is incredible to see wildlife creeping back in, emissions dropping, and the world blossoming. But there is something a bit disheartening about seeing good things coming from me staying at home, because I know it will eventually end. One day, whether it’s far off or very near, I will be back at work, back at school, and back at the places that tear up our planet bit by bit.
In my life, I try to do good for the world around me. I try to reduce, reuse, recycle. I compost. I do my best to avoid buying things I don’t need, but it never feels like enough. Even now, even as we stay home, ice caps are still melting at an insane rate, weather patterns are all out-of-flux, and droughts and other natural disasters are on the horizon.
Climate change is right around the corner, and I’m not even sure it can be stopped anymore. Not fully, at least.
This leads to feelings like hopelessness, despair, and guilt. These days, that feels like all there is, anyway. Just thinking about the scale of the catastrophe that is looming above us and our planet terrifies me. It would be worse than coronavirus. It would be worse than anything we as a species have faced before, and it might very well destroy us.
Climate change has the potential to isolate us within our own homes, permanently. Without the resources to travel freely, our temporary quarantine could become fixed in place forever. Now, more than ever, we are seeing what that kind of isolation can do. That’s not even to mention the destruction of our planet’s current ecosystem and of civilization as we know it, as well as the loss of essential resources for many people around the world.
Now, you’re thinking: Wow, Bri. Thanks. I feel so much better now.
Yeah, me too. But I want you to take a breath and bear with me here. I am the child of two professors who got degrees in ecology. This provides me with dinner conversations that range from depressing to extremely depressing, but a much more hopeful discussion occurred this Monday. I was talking about what I wanted to write here on the Up with People blog, and I was just plain stuck in a rut about how hard it is to find the right thing to do when it comes to our environment. It doesn’t feel like there is anything we can do, sometimes. All the solutions seem too small to stop this wave of change, like watching a tsunami rise up out of the sea and only having a few sandbags built up to stop it.
But my mom had a lovely insight, and I want to share it with you all, as well. She said that the problem lies both with our guilt and with our hatred of ourselves. Our guilt about the state of our environment paralyzes us, freezes us in place and makes us want to look away from the problem. Away from the pain it sparks inside of us.
And as for our self-hatred, honestly, as a worldwide community and on the individual level, we hate ourselves to a concerning degree. We judge ourselves harshly for any mistakes we make, we expect perfection and more from everything we do, we shy away from the idea of being bored or doing nothing because it would mean being alone with ourselves and our thoughts for too long. I’m not writing this as a judgment; neither was my mom. Personally, I’ve worked really hard to be okay with myself, and I know many others have, too. But it can feel like an uphill battle, just like climate change. That niggling voice of doubt always creeps in, criticizing all your actions, your blunders, your faults – and it is persuasive. It’s hard to shake it, especially when there is so little encouragement in this world that tells us to recognize the beauty that exists within ourselves. The beauty that exists all around us.
So, we fill the void with stuff. Empty, meaningless things that barely manage to sate our hunger for distraction. And that’s okay. I’m not saying you can never buy a cute Lego set again. But if, collectively, we were all a bit more conscious of our self-hatred and were able to turn it into self-acceptance… if we were able to stray from the things that only make us lonelier within ourselves and were able to feel comfortable just existing… We could help.
Not a lot, not a revolutionary amount. We as individuals are powerful, but we don’t have the power to turn the tides (literally) of a worldwide disaster. But as a collective, as an international network of people, we have the power to work together to slow and maybe even stop this infectious disease of self-hatred, of endless consumption, of trying to fill the void in our minds, hearts, and souls with things we don’t need.
And maybe, just maybe, we could stop climate change like that as well. By not supporting the industries that try to convince us that stuff is what will fix the problem. By not supporting the corporations that destroy our world one splash of acidic rain at a time.
At the very least, taking a moment a day to just appreciate yourself and everything that has led to your existence (in the least egotistical but most self-loving way you can) would both improve your life and the lives of those around you. Not to mention that being comfortable with yourself gives you so much more time to sit back and love the world around you. The flowers that bloom by cobblestone paths, the trees that tower and curve into the sky, the clouds that float by and create stories we can only dream of interpreting. The stars that can become muffled by the pollution in the air but which sometimes you can see clearly – an image of the past that has traveled so long and so far and now is being seen by your eyes.
The roar of waves on a shore as the sun sets and glints along their white caps, the snow as it melts on your face, the glow of the sun as it nourishes the ecosystem around you, the ducks in the pond secretly plotting your death. Most of these things are around you every single day and simply taking a moment to respect them is an opportunity to both positively restore the environment and to restore your mental health. Maybe build a garden that you can fit in your tiny apartment. Maybe build a compost pile or find one nearby. Maybe don’t buy that new car. Whatever you can do, even if it is as small a thing as giving your appreciation or adding your voice to the movement. Anything.
When the world restarts, when we all go back to doing things that unintentionally carve away bits of our planet, don’t lose hope. Just do what you can. Do your best to care for this planet as it has cared for you but don’t judge yourself for your mess-ups. Don’t feel angered or hopeless about the things you can’t stop or change. Instead, try to do a little bit better every day but feel satisfaction for what you have done already. Growth isn’t nurtured by guilt. It is nurtured by the acceptance of where you are and the desire to go farther.
So, most of all, allow yourself to love your being and love the world and the people around you. This is a crisis that we are only seeing the tip of, but we will get through it exactly like we will get through coronavirus. By doing what we can, even if it feels like too little; by not losing hope; and by supporting those who are doing the same.
Together, we can do this by all collectively doing what little we can. You’d be surprised by what a towering wall of sandbags can do against a tsunami.
Guest Post from Yassine Chentouf, Bermuda, Cast B 2019 & A 2020:
The natural beauty of Bermuda can never be ignored. Whether it’s from a window, on a nature trail, or a beach, Bermuda is built with nature intertwined with human creations and architecture. The flora and fauna of Bermuda is consistently present no matter where you go on the island. So when I returned home (due to the cancellation of tour in light of COVID-19), Bermuda’s nature provided a comforting presence in the midst of a sad and unfortunate experience.
While we’re in quarantine, nature gives us something to look forward to. While the human world has stopped, the natural world keeps moving. Every morning, I look out my window and at my neighborhood. There’s always something different. The snails climbing on my house, the way the water looks that day (which you can see from almost anywhere on island), even what the sky and the clouds look like. When I go on my runs through the nature trails, I can see the trees growing, the lizards moving, and the plants thriving.
The beauty of nature, during a dark time like this, provides hope.
So in this time that we are all inside, we can all strive to be more environmentally aware. Most of us are glued to technology during this time, and reliant on the electronics and appliances within our house. There is truly nothing wrong with that, as we don’t have much else to do. So for me, part of being environmentally aware is trying my best to watch my energy consumption, and note when I’m being excessive.
Being environmentally aware also looks like interacting with the environment around me, and being appreciative of it. A statement which may sound rather hippie-ish, but after all I am an “uppie” through and through. I try to make sure I take a daily run or walk to enjoy being in nature, absorbing sunlight, and getting some exercise. All of those are activities are beneficial to your mental health, and make lock down just that much easier.
Exiting this period, I will continue my appreciation for the world around me. I will also keep watching my energy consumption at home, a habit which if built now will serve me well in the future. I encourage anyone reading this to take this time to look at the beauty of what could be just outside your door. Become more aware of the environment around you, and the way you interact with it. And make sure you’re respectful and loving of the world you inhabit. It will continue far after us.
I hope the members Up with People community and beyond are doing okay in the midst of this global crisis. This is a trying time for many, and I send love to you all.
“Home no matter who you are no matter where you’re from
We gotta understand that it’s the only one we got it’s
Home no matter where you are no matter where you go
Everything you see everywhere you look around you you are home.”
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Topics: World Tour News
Up with People is a global education organization which aims to bring the world together through service and music. The unique combination of international travel, service learning, leadership development and performing arts offers young adults an unparalleled study abroad experience and a pathway to make a difference in the world, one community at a time. Click here to learn more about the internationally acclaimed program, Up with People.