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Emily Echavarria Addresses the Climate Action Assembly II

Emily Echavarria addresses the Climate Action Assembly II at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Hello again everyone. As you know my name is Emily. I am 23 years old and I have never experienced what it’s like to live on a healthy planet. Not once in my lifetime has there been a point where our climate was not in crisis. Since I was born the global temperature has risen six-tenths of a degree. We have added over one and a half billion people to the population. Sea levels have risen by over three inches. Extreme weather in the US has increased by 30 % and we have lost over 15 trillion tons of ice.

When I was five they talked about the hole in the ozone layer and told my class that when we grew up we would be the ones that would find the solution. When I was eight it was global warming and they told me that my generation would be the one to solve it. When I was 15 they told us about the island of trash in the Pacific Ocean and said that I would find a way to clean it up. My peers and I have been told time and time again that our generation is the best and the brightest that we will fix what those before us broke.

That when we grew up it would be our responsibility to solve the climate crisis. But to put that in perspective there are 7.8 billion people on earth and only 1.8 billion of them are between the ages of 10 and 24. So where does that leave the other 6 billion people? No one is off the hook.

There is no time for procrastination. There’s no room for evading responsibility or for passing the book. Every single one of us is needed. Every one of us no matter our age, no matter who we are, can and must make a change if we want to stand a chance of saving our Earth. As Jane Goodall put it, “Every individual matters. Everyone has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” It starts with each person, right where we are, right when we are, making a definitive and conscious choice to act differently. No one can do all that must be done, but everyone can do something. Accomplishing what is necessary starts with each of us doing what we can. It will be uncomfortable, it will not be easy, but I can promise you it will be worth it. It starts with a single person, it starts with you, making a change in how you live.

Then we ask you to share those changes with the people you love. Take it back to your community, your faith group, your congregation, your family and your friends. But at the same time, we recognize that not everyone has the privilege to make those kinds of changes. Not many people own their own home and can control if the building uses solar power. Not everyone has easy access to a grocery store to buy local produce.

In Chicago alone, there are half a million people that live in a food desert. So we ask you to consider the system that we live in. A system that does not prioritize the health of our planet.

And we ask you to consider how your voice can change the way your country behaves. We are the first generation of humans to have the knowledge, technology and wealth to create societies that are sustainable and just.

With that opportunity comes responsibility. Each of us has the responsibility to do what is right. But where do you start? You start by reflecting on your life and the changes and choices that you make every day. What do you spend money on daily? What sort of trash do you throw away? How much plastic? How many single-use products are you using? It’s looking at your life through a new lens and evaluating your habits through their impact on the earth. Are you wasting energy by leaving lights on? Are you taking public transit? Are you eating local foods? Are you leaving lights on and running water and leaving appliances plugged in? That’s why we ask you to reflect on your personal, individual choices, and make a change. But we cannot and we must not stop there because no matter how much we do as individuals, it isn’t enough because just 100 fossil fuel companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.

And so we ask that you endorse the Fossil Fuels Non-Proliferation Treaty, as Reverend Abby Mohop just shared. The burning of coal, oil, and gas is responsible for 86 % of carbon emissions in the past decade. But these emissions also come with the costs of local pollution, environmental degradation, and health impacts associated with extracting, refining, transporting, and burning fossil fuels. It’s time for that to end. You can endorse this as an individual, as an organization, as a faith group, and even as a city.

Then we ask you to consider the problem with plastics. Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years. We’ve produced 448 million tons of plastic in 2015 alone, and we’re projected to double that annual production by 2050. About 8 million tons of that escapes into our oceans every year. There’s an island of trash in the ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, composed of 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, which is equivalent to 250 pieces of plastic for every human on the world. So we ask that you endorse the Treaty to End Plastics, plastics, which calls upon members of the United Nations to create a legally binding global instrument on plastic pollution, including measures along the entire life cycle of plastics, its production, transport, use, and disposal. But our climate crisis is trifled– pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss.

The Living Planet Index, created by the World Wildlife Fund, estimates that, since 1970, we have seen an average 69 % decrease in monitored wildlife populations, more than 41,000 animal species worldwide are threatened with extinction, including 41% of all amphibians, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, 27% of the world’s mammals, and 13% of all known bird species. So we ask that you read and endorse the statement made by the Faiths for Biodiversity Coalition and see how you can join the movement to protect 30 % of the Earth, land, and ocean, by the year 2030.

Then we ask you to consider the future. What are we leaving to the coming generations? The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has proposed repurposing an institution of the UN to safeguard the future of the coming generations by saving our planet and providing a path for stewardship of the global commons. So we ask that you learn more about the proposal and consider supporting the call.

And lastly, we call on you to support the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment recognized by the United Nations as a universal human right last July. This is a monumental step forward, but the work in getting this right realized in legal systems across the world begins now.

We cannot just say that we’re changing and will be better moving forward. We have to fix the damage that we’ve already caused. We must center this conversation on loss and damage and human rights and reparations.

We must center this conversation on climate justice and a just transition for those communities that have had the least impact and yet bear the worst scars of climate change.

We’ve put all of these items in one central place where you can find all the links to endorse the statements and learn more and take action. And all you need to do is scan this code.

It’s as simple as this. If we have the ability to change, we have the responsibility to change. As diverse as our cultures and faith traditions may be, it is certain that we share the planet and it is certain that we will share the future.


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