The Climate Crisis Needs A Story
By Jade Lozada
I first joined the New York City Climate Strike Coalition in July 2019. In the company of such impassioned, optimistic youth activists, I quickly realized that the climate crisis is not about numbers. It is a human story, with a human solution.
I sat facing a blindingly blank-white computer screen at midnight. This was not a particular point of concern for me; all of my best writing began with this standoff between my mind, silently grappling with competing imagery and the nuances of style, and an untitled Google document daring me to commit to any one expression of my thoughts. Anxiety-inducing images of wildfires, hurricanes and doomsday newscasts flashed through my head. All of them related to the climate crisis, the theme of the spoken word poetry competition to which I was applying, but none of them illuminated its personal toll. Staring at my screen, I realized that the climate crisis was only comprehensible to me when I was confronted with a victim’s story, and that is what I could compel an audience with. Storytelling transformed my writing into activism.
I wrote my poem about a girl of color who comes to realize that the climate crisis is subtly intertwined in her own life. Pollution has given her asthma, and extreme heat has burned down blocks of her city neighborhood. Babygirl is a story of the disproportionate effects of climate change on communities of color, and the most significant consequences to me.
In retrospect, my first undertaking in climate activism began with this midnight poetic appeal to myself. I could read dozens of news articles and scientific studies detailing the crisis, but no expiration date on my Earth empowered me. A story answered how I could take action, rather than wait for change—or disaster—to arrive on my doorstep. Months later, in July, I said as much at my first New York City climate organizing meeting with Fridays for Future, the global school strike movement for climate action. I was invited to join the Core Committee of fifteen youth organizers as a representative of the Arts Committee. In the race to plan New York City’s Global Climate Strike on September 20, I confronted the challenges of a grassroots movement with storytelling.
As difficult as it was for me to comprehend a permanent alteration to the global food supply or seismic change in my city’s weather, it was harder to convince a potential striker that their actions could change the outcome. The climate crisis was perceived as a threat looming on the horizon, and our September strike needed personal investment in the lives of those already affected. The Core Committee invited members of frontline communities to speak at our rallies, from a survivor of both Hurricanes Sandy and Maria to indigenous activists whose Ecuadorian village faced deforestation. We told our own stories, too: the indigenous activist who moved to New York after her village in Mexico was flooded, the activist whose asthmatic lungs could not withstand the California Camp Fire smoke, and me, the activist who did not plan on being an activist a few months ago.
I learned from my fellow activists, as well as my own poetry, that we can rewrite the narrative of a crisis. The young are victims of climate inaction until we portray ourselves differently, and climate change will destroy our way of life until we paint it as an opportunity to reform society. In many ways, the narrative is all a youth activist has. I am not a voter, nor a decision maker in the institutions from which I demand transition. However, I can shape my message to my listener. Stories inspire radical change by finding what resonates within each bystander. For me, it was the climate injustice suffered by low-income, often minority communities through environmentally damaging projects. For my audience, there is no telling. Yet whatever our climate stories may be, they possess untapped potential to realize the goals of the movement.
Mentees Teach a Mini-Masterclass on Storytelling for Climate Justice
Jade Lozada is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in New York, NY.