By Cate Kelly, student at Mercy High School in Omaha, NE
I’ve always loved the planet because of the wildness it inspired in me. In an age where humans commonly have the ability to dominate all other life forms, it’s a relief to know that we are not the rulers of everything but simply one of many chess pieces. There is a power greater than us, something we will never conquer, and that is nature. Growing up, I experienced this with ocean waves so big they would knock me off my feet and mountains so tall I marveled at how anyone had ever made it to the summit. My relationship with God’s creation is one of wonder, respect and comfort, and I never feel so alive as when I am interacting with the Earth.
This is why last year, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate reports were released, I remember feeling a wave of grief wash over me, a feeling of utter panic. I read the scientific report while dropping off my car to get an oil change, and sobbed the entire way home when my mom picked me up. I retreated under the covers for the rest of the evening and imagined my future, imagined how much environmental destruction was happening at that very moment and how much was to come. I felt completely helpless and, above all, I felt disgust and anger. I needed to channel my emotions into something substantial, as I couldn’t bear to feel them any longer.
That same night I messaged other organizers in a student union group to which I belonged. I shared the article and asked that we form a climate council, even if it was made up of only one or two people, to pay attention to these issues and attempt to change the narrative in our community. The responses were swift and numerous, and what had originally begun in my mind as a minuscule idea soon grew to an entire climate justice organization. Though I never intended for it to happen, never intended to become an activist and organizer or a leader of an organization, I believe that it was a part of the path God laid out for me. I simply had to have the courage to begin walking it.
We formed as an official youth-led organization called Students for Sustainability in February of 2019, and only seven months later, organized Omaha’s first climate strike, with more than 300 in attendance. In those seven months, we organized ourselves and our roles within the group, held a mini Rally for the Planet to kick start our call to action, testified twice in front of the Omaha City Council, and met and talked with countless community leaders, elected officials and other youth involved in sustainability. It has been an astonishing and exhausting journey, and one that I could never have foreseen. I certainly could not have continued this fight without prayer and guidance by my higher power, as well as frequent spiritual direction.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming, and especially after the climate strike, I realized how much I hadn’t been taking care of myself. I didn’t eat for three days before the event, too anxious and busy for an appetite. I slept restlessly and fell behind on my schoolwork. But I persisted, telling myself that not only was this fight bigger than me, but that there was no time to waste. Truly, there is no time to waste, but if advocacy has taught me anything, it’s that you cannot give from an empty pot. I am so inspired by Catherine McAuley and the perseverance and dedication that she demonstrated during her lifetime. Sometimes I wonder how she did it all, how she never gave up no matter what obstacles were presented to her. I am also very grateful for the support of my school and the Sisters of Mercy, for encouraging me to continue fighting for climate justice and climate action.
This fight for our planet is one that is long term and that requires massive structural changes, from how we treat one another and the planet on an individual level to how we get energy and power our cars. I am not sure where this journey will lead me or how it will continue, but I am confident that by paying attention to my intuition, my heart and where God is calling me, it will work out far better than I can even imagine.