An Earth Day Letter to Youth

Amidst the current climate crisis, it is easy to feel small and powerless. News pours in of natural disasters, global temperature rise, and endangered species building into a crescendo of fear and hopelessness. However, within all of the bad news, many positive stories are lost.

I hadn’t heard of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy until I was looking for an internship in the environmental field this past semester. I stumbled upon the website and immediately felt inspired to get involved. Since beginning my internship, I have spent the past couple of months learning about this incredible organization and helping the cause in any way I can. The SAHC protects over 80,000 acres of land in the mountains, forests, and farmlands surrounding Asheville. We prioritize conserving properties with specific values, such as native species, waterways, and farmland. I have had the opportunity to work within many avenues of the organization, from land protection, to stewardship, to community outreach. I have visited potential conservation properties, monitored conservation easements in the SAHC portfolio, and participated in work days at the SAHC community farm.

One day in the field, I was in the car with some members of the SAHC stewardship team driving to a conservation easement to conduct our annual monitoring survey. My supervisor pointed out many of the mountains surrounding us, and which ones were protected. Later, consulting a spatial map of the greater area surrounding Asheville, I felt surprised and delighted at the expanse of parcels protected, both by the SAHC, the state, and other land trusts in the area. Through this experience at the SAHC, I have felt a renewed sense of hope rising within me. It inspires me to hear that the beautiful blue ridges around us, that provide habitat for wildlife, water for our city, and hold carbon within its rich soil, are being actively protected and conserved. This experience has shown me that I am not alone. There are so many brave activists in this fight for our planet and for our future. I have also realized how vast the environmental field is: Just within this organization, there are numerous careers and ways that people are protecting our planet.

Which brings me to the critical question on many of our minds: What can we do?

There is not one answer. The environmental movement takes many angles and requires many players. There are those in the field researching the causes and effects of climate change, there are those at the SAHC protecting our mountains, and there are those in government fighting against fossil fuel legislation. But what can we do as high schoolers without degrees or careers?

In the Sustainability Club at Asheville High School, we like to focus on the small picture, and the sustainable strategies we can all practice in our daily lives. We focus on how we can make a difference in our high school community, and through small-scale actions, we create a community that is ready to embrace large-scale change. So, in the spirit of Earth Day, I have compiled a short list of simple sustainable actions you can try, not just on Earth Day, but everyday.

  • Have a clothing swap with your friends or go thrifting! Fast fashion (meaning cheaply produced and priced clothing) is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions. The industry also uses extensive water resources and pollutes waterways with microfabrics. Fast fashion relies on fleeting fads and trends, resulting in 85% of all textiles ending up in landfills each year. Buying used clothing or swapping with friends helps to reduce our consumption, emissions, pollution, and waste. In the AHS Sustainability Club, we organized a school-wide clothing swap a couple weeks ago, and gathered over 200 items!
  • Change your diet! Try a vegetarian or vegan meal, even once a week, to reduce your carbon footprint. Livestock production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the growth of industrial livestock production has many adverse environmental impacts, including water overuse, deforestation, erosion, and polluted runoff. There are tons of vegan or vegetarian recipes online, and many delicious ways to maintain your health along with the planet’s.
  • Carpool! Catching a lift with just one other person could cut your carbon emissions in half. (Not to mention your gas expenses.) Last year, the Sustainability Club held a “Cookies-for-Carpool” event where we handed out cookies to students who carpool to/from school.
  • Opt for long-lasting materials rather than single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gasses each year. Additionally, single use plastics contribute 13 million tons of pollution to the ocean each year. At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh fish in the sea by 2050. By using reusable bottles, bags, and containers, we can keep plastic out of our landfills and waterways and greenhouse gasses out of our atmosphere.
  • Volunteer in the community! There are so many organizations in Asheville and the surrounding area doing all types of environmental work. Check out the SAHC volunteer page for tabling events and farm work days!
  • Become a member of the SAHC – the membership price is a sliding scale, and any contribution you make goes towards our work protecting the mountains around Asheville.
  • Enjoy nature! I have found that the biggest motivator towards climate action is reminding myself what we’re fighting for. Join one of the SAHC’s community hikes or take a trip to the mountains on your own.
  • Share the love! Tell your friend about a fun climate fact you learned. Share your new vegan recipe. Spread the word about volunteer events. Remember that you are not fighting this alone, in fact you can’t fight this alone. This is a group effort, and will involve each and every one of us.

Now, you may be thinking: I am just one person; my vegan diet, tote bag, and volunteer work aren’t going to help the climate crisis. But isn’t collective action just the accumulation of many individual actions? Collective action is made of you and me: individuals making choices towards our future. The fight for our planet is not lost yet, but we must act now. Rather than allowing upsetting news to fuel hopelessness and complacency, let it drive you to action.

Happy Earth Day!

Talia Weizman (she/her)

Intern Bio

Talia Weizman is a senior at Asheville High School interning at the SAHC during her last semester. She was born and raised in Asheville and has loved living near the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. Talia is passionate about environmental protection and plans to major in Environmental Studies in college. She is the president of the Sustainability Club at her school, where she advocates for environmentally sustainable practices in her community.  She is very excited to have the opportunity to work with the SAHC and learn more about environmental conservation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, reading, seeing live music, and playing bass guitar in her band. Talia will be going to the University of Vermont in the fall.