Generation on Fire

Imagine this: you wake up to suffocating smoke and desperate wails of your children trapped in their room. You are helpless as you watch the fire burn all around you. You reach for the doorknob to rescue them, but it sears your skin. . . . It is too late.

This is happening to Earth; we just refuse to believe it, and the worst of it is that we humans are solely to blame. We are the ones who have caused a 1.07 degree Celsius global temperature rise. We are the ones who dump a truckload of plastic into the ocean every minute. We are the ones warming our seas to the equivalent of an atomic bomb going off every second. 

Why? We see ourselves as separate from and dominant over Earth. This is the tragic folly of the Anthropocene era. We are disastrously disconnected from Earth and its place in the cosmos. We approach Earth with how we can conquer it, control it, and profit from it: not how to respect and sustain it for a thousand years forward.

They say “ignorance is bliss,” but I fail to see the bliss here. Many people do not understand or believe the reality of climate change. We must educate the citizenry and hold our elected officials responsible for action.

I have recently worked with political leaders for planetary defense and climate research, and participated in the Planetary Society’s Day of Action. The Planetary Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to planetary studies, space education, and advancements in space science. The Day of Action is a day for Planetary Society members to advocate for increases in federal budgets dedicated to science and technology.

As a resident of New Jersey in the United States, I met with the staff of Senator Cory Booker, Senator Robert Menendez, and Congressman Donald Norcross. I asked for budget increases to NASA for science research and for broadened STEM education.

While many think of space science as separate from earth science, we must remember that the study of Earth is a key science mission of NASA. NASA researches the impacts of climate change, such as rises in sea level, frequency and severity of storms, and atmospheric increases in greenhouse gasses.

NASA understands climate change in the context of what has happened on other planetary systems over the billions of years our universe has existed. For example, NASA has researched Venus and its climate, weather, and atmospheric conditions, as well as the process that occurs there. This process, called the runaway greenhouse effect, provides a clear example of what might happen here on Earth if we continue to pollute it. The runaway greenhouse effect is a continuous cycle of warming that once triggered cannot be reversed.

On Venus, this effect was triggered when oceans evaporated because of the planet’s close proximity to the Sun. The carbon dioxide stored in the water was released into the air, and it built up in the atmosphere. This caused sunlight to be absorbed and released inside Venus instead of being reflected. Because of the thick atmosphere, once this sunlight that carried heat was absorbed, it was trapped. As more sunlight and heat were trapped, Venus got even hotter. This cycle continues to heat Venus into the fiery ball it is today.

If we continue emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses at the rate we are now, this event, known as a tipping point, could occur on Earth as early as 2030. I will be 21 years old. Unlike Venus, it will happen on Earth not because of our location near the Sun, but solely because of human greed and the failure to embrace science and to act.

As a Planetary Society advocate, I promote the development of science technologies to help Earth avoid the same fate as Venus. For example, MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) is a technology developed for NASA. MOXIE converts carbon dioxide to oxygen and is currently one of the many science instruments on the Mars Perseverance rover. MOXIE, while initially developed to test oxygen production in a thin Martian atmosphere, if successful, could be re-designed and implemented on Earth to counter the carbon dioxide expelled into our atmosphere.

At 12 years old, I am faced with the dangers of increased forest fires, rising seas, and unbreathable air. I have many reasons not to trust my fellow humans, especially those responsible for ignoring science and leading us into this fire, and yet I have hope that person by person, fact by fact, change will come, but only if we can learn to value life over profit and follow science. This is why my faith tradition is science. 

Science is a constant quest for truth. We seek answers to questions about our world, the cosmos, and our place within it. While this is not a belief in an anthropomorphic deity or any overarching God, the core principles remain. My faith in science guides me. 

How can we not burn down our home? How can we avoid the sufferings of my children and my children’s children? We must follow the Seventh Generation Principle (based on an ancient Haudenosaunee philosophy) and act with a mind to seven generations into the future.

To succeed in reversing impending peril, my generation must rise, act, and lead. I have faith that my generation will be the generation of change, of truth, and of a thousand personal actions rooted in science and pursued with hope.

Heidi Jacobs

Heidi Jacobs (she/her). Grade 6, Westfield Friends School in Cinnaminson, N.J.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.