Esther Ngumbi
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Do the small things to make a big difference

Across Europe, students and young people are taking a stance on climate change and demanding action. From Belgium to Germany, youth-led climate protests are becoming a norm. Known as “School Strike 4 Climate” or Fridays For Future”, they are calling upon governments to declare a climate emergency and make other changes. Young people have a right to protest. After all, report after report about a warming Earth and deteriorating climate have been met with negligible action by governments, and youth, after all, are the ones who will live to see the future that is even more negatively affected by climate change.

Climate change is a problem that impacts us all though. Around the world, the effects of climate change are manifested in the form of repetitive droughts, flooding events, deadly storms, extreme hot temperatures and crop failures. From Kenya, to South Africa, to Uganda, to Europe and the United States, everyone is affected.

Esther Ngumbi

As an entomologist and a food security advocate I take the threat of climate change seriously. We will not have a food-secure world if we do not take action to stop climate change. What is more is that my support goes beyond activism. I am taking personal action by buying only what I need, and I have a career that allows me to actively contribute solutions to climate change. My research seeks to find ways to grow crops sustainably to feed everyone amidst a changing climate.

Of course, at times, I question if my individual actions to mitigate climate change mean anything or have any noticeable impact? I know I am not alone. Many young people of today may feel that way—unsure if their actions can make any impact.

The truth is, any action matters. If every person, especially our young people, takes individual action, we can collectively make a difference. We all must take action. BIG or SMALL. Of course, there is research that shows individual action is still not enough, but, taking individual action at least doesn’t make the problem worse.

How to get started?

For the many young students who are new to activism on climate change and wondering if there are ways to address climate change, and unsure of how to begin, here are some tips:

First, find an area that contributes to climate change that you are comfortable talking about. According to research, there are several key drivers to climate change including fossil fuel combustion, industrial processes, land use changes, agriculture, deforestation, and food waste.

Once you have found the area you are passionate talking about, see if you can find creative and authentic ways to speak up against inaction. Find your unique voice and start to confidently speak up. Greta Thunberg, the voice behind the ongoing “School Strike 4 Climate” movement, provides an inspiring example of authentic activism.

Further, be sure to use the available resources to get your knowledge up to date. There are plenty of peer-reviewed articles that do a good job summarizing the state of affairs. Doing a Google Scholar search would be a good place to start. Alternatively, I would recommend to liaise with your local librarians or school libraries and request this information.

Importantly, as you find ways to mitigate climate change through personal action, consider finding ways to communicate to others and share the knowledge you have learned, communicating clearly about the price we stand to pay as a result of our inaction.

At the same time, be sure to take actionable steps to reduce your own carbon footprint. The good news is –there are several articles that suggest different actions including eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, and considering using bicycles as an alternative means of transportation. Taking these actions can greatly reduce your personal your contribution to climate change.

Pursuing a career in science

Esther Ngumbi

Alternatively, you could consider pursuing a career in science. Doing so would allow you to get to the root of the problem and contribute evidence-based solutions to mitigate climate change. There are many disciplines to consider including entomology, plant sciences, soil sciences and atmospheric sciences to name just a few.

I grew up in a rural village in Kenya and went through local elementary and public high school. My first experience with science in a science laboratory setting didn’t come until late in my high school. Even then, much of the science was literature oriented, and only designed to allow me and the rest of the students to acquire the knowledge we needed to pass the practical exams. Science was never practical nor hands on, and our curiosity was silenced. They say that every child is a natural scientist. Sadly, for me and many other children, that innate scientist ability was never encouraged or nurtured. As a result, I did not see myself ever becoming a scientist.

It would only be later on during my years at the University that my passion for science was ignited. When I stepped in my first well-equipped biochemistry lab at Kenyatta University, I was fascinated. I did not want to leave. I still remember treasuring every second I spend in the lab and wondering why all along we did not have access to a modern science lab facility. This love for science ignited at a lab in Kenyatta University has never faded.

On a beautiful summer day of August, 6, 2011, I finally received my doctorate degree in a science field-Entomology and became the first girl in my community to obtain a PhD degree. But something more happened that day. I vowed to take action to correct the imbalance in my community. I told myself that I would do whatever it would take to give the children in my community, the children from other poor communities, the children in Africa the opportunities to break the poverty barrier, get an education and go out to attain whatever it is that they wanted to become, including becoming scientists. So when I got married, I decided that instead of receiving gifts, I would raise funds to build a science laboratory for my community to inspire a generation of scientists. While I did not collect enough funds to complete this dream, I am committed to making it happen.

Today, I am still pursuing science, and I love it. The excitement in knowing that every experiment I do, provides me with a chance to discover something new and to add on to the body of knowledge in my field, is something I value. There is joy in the business of discovery – you never know what you find, and what the implications of the discovery might be.

‘Balance for better’

As we celebrate 2019 International Women’s Day and reflect on today’s societal challenges such as climate change and gender imbalances in science, everyone’s voice and action is needed.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Balance for better’. In science, women only make up 30 percent of the field. Such an imbalance has important consequences for our global world including depriving it from fully benefiting from the contributions that women and other underrepresented groups can make if they all participated in science.

At the same time, we must also create inclusive environments in science to allow women and minority groups to thrive. Discrimination in work places, hiring, and promotion, unequal pay and sexual harassment, continue to be prevalent in many institutions. As such, organizations like AAUW that advocate for gender equity issues must keep pushing.

Tackling climate change is a pressing issue of our time. Failure to take a stand, and to take action by everyone including the millions of young people and students around the world should worry everyone. Nevertheless, we can use the ongoing youth-led riots to reflect and create individual action plans that we will use to mitigate climate change.

Esther Ngumbi

Esther Ngumbi is a distinguished postdoctoral fellow with the Entomology and African-American Studies Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She is a Food Security Fellow with Aspen Institute and a Clinton Global University Initiative Ambassador. You can follow her on Twitter @EstherNgumbi

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