'It's Going To Be Bad:' Maine Young People Petition For Action On Climate Change

Jan 30, 2018

The last couple of months have seen a rise in young people turning to the law to address climate change. Some are suing the Trump administration in federal court over government's failure to protect against climate change. Here in Maine, a group of young people and voters is petitioning the Department of Environmental Protection to address carbon emissions in the state. Twenty-year-old Jessica Szetela is one of the signers of that petition.  She spoke with Maine Public’s Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz.  

GRATZ:  Can you tell us a little bit about what the petition does ask for?

SZETELA: So there is a 14-year-old law in Maine that says that we are supposed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to a level that is supposed to eliminate any harmful effects of climate change. But there's actually no policies in place to do so. This petition is asking for the EPA to actually create a policy that will do so.

GRATZ: Why is climate change and carbon emissions a youth issue?

Jessica Szetela at Maine Public's Portland studios Friday, Jan. 26, 2018.
Credit Willis Arnold / Maine Public

SZETELA: We still haven't done anything on it and now it's knowingly changing the climate. And these youth, they're just growing up in the world being, like, "Oh, I can use all the electricity or water, and I need my phone and my laptop for school." But they don't drive cars and they're not the ones actually doing the emitting, but they're feeling some of the hardest effects, because it's the very old, the very sick, and the very young that are going to be the most affected.

GRATZ: The petition doesn't address the Maine law on the books that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate. This, as you mention, it's been relatively ineffectual. Why?

SZETELA: It's kind of like the Kyoto protocol, where it is a voluntary action. Any country that signed onto it - they stated that they were going to make change but it doesn't actually force you to do so. That's kind of what this law is like as well.

GRATZ: Gov. LePage shut down a petition in 2016 that also aimed to hold the DEP accountable for its role in protecting against climate change. What makes you think this will be more successful?

SZETELA: There was not as much backing or as much information as we know now. We really don't know all of the effects that climate change is going to have, but what we do know is that it's going to be bad for most people. This petition this year is more based in those scientific facts that have been recent. We have almost 700 signatures from Maine residents alone, plus youth signatures from all over.

GRATZ: In doing this, were you influenced at all by the current climate change lawsuit that was filed against the Trump administration on behalf of younger people?

Jessica Szetela, left at the podium, addressing a crowd at the State House earlier this month.
Credit Karen Luse

SZETELA: Personally, no. I know of that, and I know that it's been an ongoing lawsuit, not just against Trump but against the U.S. government in general from the youth. As I said, it's the young who are going to be the most affected.

GRATZ: Talk a little bit more about that - what's really at stake with this petition.

SZETELA: I mean, we're facing loss of biodiversity, we're facing really poor air quality, water quality, the risk of famine goes incredibly high because we're going to lose, like, the arid land that actually is used to make our crops on a worldwide scale. But also look, even at a local level, governments are not going to be able to handle those losses and still be able to make a profit.

GRATZ: You know, when you talk about things like world food production and rising ocean waters - these are huge global issues. I'm just curious as to what you think about your ability to actually have any impact on all of this stuff.

SZETELA: It's petitions like this where, OK, your voice can actually be heard. And even if it's in one state or one governmental level, it at least will inspire change, especially within the youth. Every time I talk to, like, people younger than me, they inspire me so much when they tell me like things I don't even know.  And they are just so inspired to be like, "OK we can do this." So why can't everybody else?

GRATZ: Jessica, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

SZETELA: Thank you so much for having me.

This story was originally published Jan. 29, 2018 at 7:48 a.m. ET.