Hoping for a Better Future

Hannah Finkelshteyn, 16, is a high school junior in New Jersey and a state organizer for #youthvgov.

Hannah Finkelshteyn, 16, is a high school junior in New Jersey and a state organizer for #youthvgov.

It has fallen into my generation’s hands to fix something that should not have been our obligation to fix. It has become my generation’s responsibility to mend a world that is breaking at the seams, and although we seem too young, too inexperienced, we must pick up a needle and thread and sew up the Earth’s wounds. It is individuals like the Juliana plaintiffs who have shown me that although this task seems near impossible, it is not entirely outside our reach. Seeing their work on climate repair has helped me grow into my role in the fight against the climate crisis.

At the beginning of my high school career, my thoughts were fixated on a new school and new friends and my own life. I knew the world wasn’t perfect, but I was only a freshman. I couldn’t vote, I had to focus on getting good grades. Living in a comfortable suburb in New Jersey, I had the amazing privilege of not feeling like I needed to care.

Immersed in my personal concerns, it never occurred to me that my beautiful planet could be taken away. Although conscious of the discussions around climate change, I thought it was a problem for another day, an issue that scientists and people of tomorrow would address. I was wrong.

As a junior, I began to see a rise in the number of articles about environmental degradation popping up on my news feed, pieces about species going extinct, about irreversible damage. Finally, after a conversation with my friend about the future, I realized: we, my generation, are the people of tomorrow. If we don’t act today, there will be no people tomorrow. As I looked around and saw nobody taking action, as I looked around and saw a world collapsing into rubble and politicians, pundits - anyone who should be rebuilding simply yelling over the noise, I started losing hope. As I struggled to cling onto the little bit of hope I had left, I realized that I had to accept responsibility. There was no longer time to ponder on my inabilities because as I was letting time waste away, unprecedented flooding was destroying homes. As I was thinking about what I couldn’t do, droughts were wiping out farming regions. It was time to act.

Hannah speaking about Juliana v. US at J-Serve, a community service event in New Jersey

Hannah speaking about Juliana v. US at J-Serve, a community service event in New Jersey

I discovered the Juliana v. US lawsuit while trying to figure out how to act, and reading about it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my chest. Here were people who were really doing something, a group that was fighting hard to save our planet—and they were all about my age. After looking up the case, it wasn’t all too hard to sign up to the #youthvgov email list. It was easy signing up to be a state organizer, and suddenly, I found myself emailing national organizations on behalf of #youthvgov, speaking at a local event, getting more people to sign on to email lists, and presenting information on the case to whoever was willing to listen. Freshman me would have been shocked.

I get sick to my stomach each time I read an article about climate change. I didn’t used to have such an extreme reaction, but I also didn’t know how much the responsibility to act was in my generation’s hands. I didn’t understand how close we all are to losing our home, and I didn’t realize how little the government was doing to fix it. I take some solace in the fact that I am doing what I can, and that there are people out there doing what they can as well. That little bit of hope is not much to hold onto, but it is something. Sometimes, a little hope is enough to keep you fighting.



Caitlin Howard