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Nebraska students lead climate change activism

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Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 10:33 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The 2022 U.N. Climate Report comprehensively outlines what is considered by scientists to be a dire warning: “unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies, the world will be uninhabitable.”

SPECIAL REPORT: Last week the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report written by hundreds of leading scientists showing it is “now or never” for worldwide action to avert climate disaster.

Challenges from climate change are also faced in the Heartland.

6 News is reporting a series of stories this week leading up to Earth Day on Friday, April 22. Watch for more reports this week on WOWT and WOWT.com.

In examining individual responsibility, there are certain individuals who stand out as leaders in climate action.

”Look at Greta Thunberg,” said David Corbin, Ph.D., emeritus professor of health education/public health at the UNO School of Health & Kinesiology. “Millions of people follow her, some people say oh well, she’s just talking, how does she get the platform? She gets the platform because she knows what she’s talking about and it’s her generation.”

It’s also Kat Woerner’s generation.

“My mantra is ‘action is the antidote to despair.’”

The Bellevue West High School graduate has become a significant leader in forwarding sustainability and environmental issues while studying at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Burning the torch for climate change, raising her voice when she needs to, but studying business and economics along with environmental studies, she can speak softly, when that’s what it takes.

”I care a lot about relationships and that’s also what business school teaches us is, if you want to change anything, you got to talk to the right people,” Woerner said. “You have to build a good relationship with them, you got to get them to trust you and you have to be able to trust them, and vice versa.”

And it seems young people are often the ones getting our attention when it comes to climate change.

“I’ll speak for the University of Nebraska students, that’s what I’m most familiar with,” said Martha Shulski, Ph.D., state climatologist for Nebraska. “They are a force to be reckoned with, they hold people accountable and they are in some ways leading the movement on climate change action. They motivate me every day.”

The same can be said of students at University of Nebraska-Omaha, where associate professor of international relations Beth Chalecki said students and the university, are leaders in sustainability. Her work on global environmental issues underscores the role each Nebraskan must make.

“UNO has become a leader in teaching sustainability to the students here, so I’m very proud of that,” Chalecki said, adding putting all the pressure on students in the climate fight is unfair. “It is entirely not upon them to do it, it is upon all of us, whatever your age, whatever your social standing, whatever your ethnic group or your race or whatever, it’s on all of us to do this. It’s not just on the students, it’s on the teachers, it’s on the parents, it’s on the grandparents, it’s on the little kids, it’s on everyone. That’s where the idea of sustainability education, of a sustainable life comes in, we know that we can’t keep going the way we have, we can’t keep consuming resources and burning fossil fuels in order to live the life that we live. If we want all those good things, food all year round, being able to hop on a plane wherever we want to, and so on, electricity production when we flip a switch, we need to figure out how to do it without fossil fuels.”

Indeed, dynamic young people like Kat can lead, but it only works if everyone follows.

”It would be presumptuous to say ‘why don’t you do it like we did?’ because obviously, we’re in the situation we are,” Corbin said. “I’m glad there are young people going out doing student strikes, marches, rallies, divesting groups, those are all being led by young adults. They are concerned about the climate, they want to live in a place that has a plan that actually works and is implemented.”

”Young people want climate action,” Woerner said. “Young people want climate resiliency. Young people want to be able to live in the future where we don’t have to worry about if we’ll be able to have enough food to eat.”

“I’m studying to be an economist (so) I’m able to speak the language of cost-benefit analysis, return on investment, and how all that correlates with environmental conservation and climate activism,” Woerner said. “Because there is an incredible cost of climate change that’s going to be realized in the future that we don’t realize right now on this beautiful sunny day. The cost of it is the drought of 2022 and the flood of 2018 and all the natural disasters that are coming, increasing the cost every single year.”

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