By Megan Murphy June 13, 2019

Throughout my childhood, I was fortunate enough to have ample opportunity to explore some of our planet’s most beautiful natural wonders — from hikes within the Shenandoah National Park to coral reefs along Florida’s coasts, to the creek right in my backyard in Northern Virginia. I have always felt the most at home outdoors, so when I learned about how climate change poses a threat to the existence of these places, my heart ached tremendously. But I am also confident that it is not too late to save these and many other places: the sooner we act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the better off the planet will be.

At the University of Mary Washington, I pursued an environmental sustainability minor, through which I explored climate change science and solutions, such as those involving global environmental governance. But as someone who is deeply invested in pursuing social equity, I found my passion in a geography class that explored the intersection between environmental issues and social justice. The reality that someone’s zip code is one of the strongest determinants of health and exposure to environmental toxins really struck a chord with me. That reality is a grave injustice. Clean air, clean water, and livable green spaces are rights. I am hopeful for a future in which we all have equal access to these resources, as well as a voice in looking after our environment. As such, climate change solutions that adhere to the voices of those in underrepresented communities and youth — those who have an especially proximate connection to the issue — should be pursued.

Before joining Defend Our Future for the summer, I interned with the House Committee on Natural Resources, a committee that is on the forefront of addressing the climate crisis. Through this internship I gained invaluable knowledge of the legislative process, policy-related writing, and social media. Some of my favorite projects were the #climatechangeimpactsme social media campaign, through which the public shares their climate change stories, and writing a blog post that explored how climate change affects our public lands and outdoor recreation economies, in addition to how intact public lands can act as effective climate change defense systems through mitigation mechanisms like carbon sequestration.

Whenever I come across articles about young people organizing, voting in record numbers, or advocating for real, lasting climate change responses, I feel immensely proud. These young people are empowered because of the reality that they will be forced to deal with whatever choices decision makers pursue right now. The drive that youth across the world are showing to address rising temperatures and the subsequent environmental harm represents a mobilization of youth unlike I, and I believe many of those from older generations, have ever seen. When I hear the words ‘climate activist,’ I immediately picture a young person—which is pretty extraordinary. For these reasons, I am thrilled to be interning with the Defend Our Future, which seeks to unite young people of all backgrounds and persuasions in the fight against climate change. Through the internship, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to engage with many brave young people who are on the forefront of the fight to save the climate; to learn more about organizing; and to further develop social media skills to reach broad audiences.

Megan Murphy is a University of Mary Washington alumna and a 2019 Defend Our Future summer intern.