Jen VanStrander is a second-year college student studying International and Global studies, Middle Eastern studies, French, and Arabic at the Rochester Institute of Technology in her hometown of Rochester, New York. She is excited to get her campus more involved in carbon pricing initiatives and being actively involved with her local political community. She is also looking forward to meeting with her Congressional representatives and to publish articles related to environmental issues. Her passion for environmental sustainability stems from seeing the adverse affects climate change has had on the Native American population in Western New York throughout her lifetime. Connect with Jen on LinkedIn.
Every morning I wake up and check my phone. I look at my background and see a picture of my baby cousin Hadley. She is sitting on a big blue couch wearing white tights and a striped black and white shirt with crochet detail. Her adorable face is slanted into a curious look at the camera. Her chubby legs are crossed over and her hair is adorned with a white flower which she prominently took off when her mother wasn’t watching. With her head tilted to the side, she seems to be wondering what I’m doing. In that moment I was trying to capture the split seconds of stillness in all of her squirming. In that moment I was adoring her big beautiful brown eyes and chubby cheeks. In that moment she was looking at me, and I was looking at her. I may be 20 years older than her but she is my future. She is our future. She depends on me to make the world a place she can grow up and thrive in. Every time I look at the photo I think to myself, “What kind of world am I going to make for her? When she is my age, will she have access to clean drinking water? Will she have enough food to eat? Will it be safe for her to go outside? Will she be happy?” And so I strive every day to do everything I can to make sure she has a secure future, because she is the future.
Hadley is an example of our posterity. She is growing up in a world filled with uncertainty; nothing about her future is guaranteed or secured. I love her so much and I feel personally responsible for making sure she has access to basic necessities such as clean water and clean air because right now and for the foreseeable future, those things are in jeopardy. The “Seventh Generation” idea of sustainability stems from a Haudenosaunee conceptual principal. The idea comes from their Constitution, which states, "[i]n every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine." When I plan, advocate and organize for a climate solution, I am always thinking about the seventh generation and beyond. But lately, I have been thinking even further; about the seventh generations’ seventh generation.
What will their challenges be? Which difficulties will they face? Will they be fighting for the same things we’re fighting for now, such as land, water, and clean air rights? I wonder if there will even be a seventh generation, or if our world will have changed too much by then to adequately support human life? As the President of my local chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, I frequently interact with Indigenous members of my community who come from all walks of life and represent a diverse range of Nations. Through these interactions, especially from the other Native students at my school, I have heard heartfelt stories of their personal struggles of environmental conflicts on their reservations. Many of these stories have a common theme of tribes not having adequate rights regarding natural resources. We would not need to continue to have these conflicts if we shifted our fuel reliance to renewable energy sources. I believe putting an effective price and regulation on things like carbon emissions is a one-stop solution to ending environmentally-toxic installations and practices like crude-oil pipelines.
The earth is our mother, the fresh water is her veins. We should treat her with more respect, and stop polluting and stealing from her when all she has ever done is give everything she has to us. I think sometimes we think we own whatever land we land on, but the earth is not just a dead thing we can claim. Every rock, tree, creature, river, and hill has a spirit and a name. This land is neither your land nor my land. Nobody owns the earth, but rather the earth owns us. I wonder if Hadley will grow up to love her country if it keeps taking her rights away. I wonder if I will, too.