In summary

From brainy write-ups to passionate pleas for reform, here are selected excerpts from CalMatters’ Earth Day op-ed contest.

California youth have sounded the alarm: climate change is not a future threat – it’s already here, flooding their streets, burning their neighborhoods, cutting their school days, upending their food systems and more.

This was made abundantly clear in CalMatters’ Earth Day op-ed contest, inviting California middle and high schoolers to submit opinion pieces on how changes in climate have impacted their community.

More than 120 students submitted entries, ranging from brainy write-ups to passionate pleas for action. One student even shared how they got their school to finally start recycling.

Their fine writing and rigorous research made for a competitive race (and for CalMatters, hard decisions). To spotlight more youth voices, we compiled select excerpts of their exemplary work.

Excerpts have been edited for brevity and clarity.

My last breath will come sooner than I had planned because of you. The weather here in Humboldt County, where I have lived all of my life, is changing.

For the first time, I had snow covering my yard, and the roads were slick with ice. Many cars slid and crashed. Yet no matter how loud I yell, people will still deny that our world is changing for the worse.

Joey H., high school student in Humboldt County.

I have never known a world in which summer temperatures did not break records. In 2018, when the Camp Fire cloaked my city in smoke, my friend created a song inspired by my asthma. It was entitled “If You Breathe, You’re Gonna Die.” We were 12 years old.

We can combat climate change, but doing so will require bold, transformative action. This Earth Day, we must call on the California Department of Geologic Energy Management to stop issuing new oil permits.

Supriya P., high school student in Sacramento County.

In 2015, I was in Porter Ranch during the time of the Aliso Canyon leak, and it was terrifying. I had major headaches that got worse, as well as nose bleeds, and we were relocated for a year. I am still haunted by the memories.

At least 109,000 metric tons of methane gas were released into the air. We need to stop releases of methane, slow climate change and help our society become whole again.

Brenna A., high school student in Ventura County.

A firefighter hoses down a burning home to help stop the spread of the fire to nearby homes in the Skyhawk community as the Shady Fire burns in Santa Rosa, on Sept. 28, 2020. Photo by Dai Sugano, Bay Area News Group
A firefighter hoses down a burning home to help stop the spread of the fire to nearby homes in the Skyhawk community as the Shady Fire burns in Santa Rosa, on Sept. 28, 2020. Photo by Dai Sugano, Bay Area News Group

I’ll never be able to forget the fear I felt as a 12-year-old, being forced to pack up a few of my most important things just in case we had to evacuate due to encroaching wildfires.

Sonoma County experiences a huge amount of tourism every year, and a combination of wildfires and rising sea levels will cause massive problems. If Sonoma County suffers, the rest of the world suffers, too.

Hannah S., high school student in Sonoma County.

This climate crisis has birthed a generation of young advocates who fight for environmental justice not because they want to, but because they need to.

Yet, many calls from youth for stricter climate policies are still being rejected. We must change this culture of looking down on students just because they’re younger or still in school.

Sarah L., high school student in Cupertino.

We are uncharged murderers. We need to change as a society because we are harming our future and the future of our planet.

Bella P., high school student in Orange County.

The effects of climate change in Ventura County are threatening a precious local resource: groundwater.

The effects of groundwater depletion will be felt far and wide, as Ventura County farmers export their produce to Canada, Europe and China.

Conserving water to ensure the longevity of these practices is essential to the health and well-being of local residents, as well as the planet.

Camilla L. and Beatrice B., high school students in Ventura County.

It is a scandal that a state which suffers from regular droughts has failed to develop a better system for the conservation of rainwater.

Cities like Pasadena focus on nature-based approaches to collect water with green streets, which the Environmental Protection Agency describes as “vegetation, soil and engineered systems to slow down and purify stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces.”

Brianna T., high school student in Los Angeles County.

A pedestrian walks around Lake Merritt on Sept. 9, 2020, in Oakland. Smoke from multiple fires in California has filled the Bay Area sky. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group
A pedestrian walks around Lake Merritt on Sept. 9, 2020, in Oakland. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group

The sun was a smoky orange blob in the sky. I got out of the car as my eyes watered from the smoke. I tried my best, stumbling forward knowing that, on the other side, school was waiting. This was wildfire season.

The Los Angeles Times wrote a few years ago that “the last 10 years have shattered records. 2020 tops them all.” Yet this phrase is used constantly in the summer.

Luke L., middle school student in Alameda County.

Hope for our generation and future generations is what we need so, one day, we can read books to our children and avoid the question, “Mommy, what’s an elephant?”

Suvi F., high school student in Orange County.

When the air quality is very bad, we get a smoke day or fire day from school. The fact that we even have to do that is crazy.

My brother, who has asthma, is very vulnerable when it’s smoky out.

Lilli A., middle school student in Alameda County.

Climate change has left nearly 9,300 unhoused people in Sacramento to fend for themselves under increasingly dangerous weather conditions.

By 2050, Sacramento can expect to see at least 15 days a year above 100 degrees, compared to an average of four days a year between 1961 and 1990. 

The best solution for this issue is to pass legislation to establish a permanent fund that provides assistance for homeless people as a direct response to dangerous weather. 

Kylie H., high school student in Sacramento County.

My own family composts. It is very simple and easy and helps us a lot by helping us grow our beautiful garden with many different fruits and vegetables.

Why can’t people put this into their everyday habits for the better of our environment? 

If everyone in the United States composted, it would be equivalent to removing 7.8 million cars from the road.

Yara S., high school student in Orange County.

more from calmatters’ earth day op-ed contest

Earth Day: California must curb Central Valley food waste as water crisis worsens

Earth Day Op-Ed Contest Winner: 4th Place More than 100 high school and middle school students across California submitted opinion pieces to CalMatters’ inaugural Earth Day contest. The contest theme was “How have changes in climate impacted your community?” Guest Commentary written by Jesse Morris Jesse Morris is a high school student from Tulare County. He…

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

Michael Lozano leads CalMatters’ Youth Journalism Initiative assessing the state of California’s journalism education and industry pipeline. He previously covered election administration for CalMatters...

Yousef is the California Voices editor, overseeing the commentary section for CalMatters. He previously worked for The Sacramento Bee where he was the assistant opinion editor and a member of the editorial...