17, and Leading Climate Action in New Mexico

On March 15, students from over 100 countries around the world marched for their future in a Youth Climate Strike. We come together because we need those in power to listen. In California students marched to save their homeland from wildfires, in Kenya students marched to address their deforestation crisis, in Bangladesh it was floods and cyclones, in Sudan and Arizona it was drought and extreme heat waves, in the Netherlands it was rising sea level. For me, I marched because I feel as though we have no choice but to fight with everything we’ve got to save our beautiful world.

I am Tabatha Hirsch. I am seventeen years old and I live in New Mexico, the land of enchantment. I have been working to address global warming for as long as I can remember. I grew up hopeful that we as humans could make a difference. In fourth grade I wrote a play for the school that explained climate change and what kids could do to help. In fifth grade our public elementary school environmental group, “The Go Green Club,” introduced and passed a bill to ban plastic bags in Santa Fe. I am proud that as ten-year-olds we were able to enact change in our community. Music has also been an outlet for me to express my frustrations and aspirations for our planet – I wrote and performed a song about climate change for a city wide climate conference; it was also featured in a television series on climate change in New Mexico.

When I entered high school, I was hoping to continue to address climate change. Wendi Odai, a mother of two kids attending my school was also concerned about the state of our planet. She brought Citizens Climate Lobby to the school as an option for students to get involved in the community. She explained how a carbon fee and dividend was the best solution to climate change, as it was a market friendly, revenue neutral, and increasingly bipartisan incentive to lower carbon emissions. I signed up along with six others, and we immediately got to work as a high school chapter of the international organization. I was excited to join such a committed group.

That November when Donald Trump was elected, I remember almost crying with Wendi, so worried about the country and our future. We started to understand that it would be highly unlikely for our proposal to be passed nationwide, but I suggested that instead of working for a carbon fee and dividend at the federal level, we fight for one in our state. We decided to push for a memorial studying the effects of a carbon fee and dividend in New Mexico. We drafted legislation, lobbied for sponsorship, which we got from Senator Soules, then acted as expert witnesses from the first committee to the senate floor. Two years later, our memorial passed as the first successful legislative action on climate change on the state level. The study, funded by New Mexico citizens, was done that summer by a nonprofit in Massachusetts called Climate XChange. The study showed us the best way to introduce carbon pricing in New Mexico. Our student chapter – eleven passionate ninth through twelfth graders (Natalie, Michelle, Savannah, Michelle, Rowan, Oliver, Sarah, Hugo, Bettina, Issac, and Henry) – broke off from Citizens Climate Lobby, and we became Students for the Next Generation. We drafted our bill based on the study and regained support from Senator Soules.

This year we dedicated ourselves to passing this bill. We spoke with Republicans and Democrats alike, pushing for bipartisan support. The first committee assigned was the Corporations and Transportation Committee, the most conservative in the Roundhouse (the name of our statehouse). The committee was designed to protect the oil and gas industry. My peers and I were hopeful the bill would pass, but many adults weren’t expecting more than a few affirmative votes. When we were tabled, getting four votes in favor and four opposed; it was bitter sweet. We had defied the expectations but felt as though we had failed our goal. Walking out of the committee I was overcome with emotion; it is hard to believe the world is so resistant to change. I have to remind myself that it takes momentous perseverance and teamwork to enact momentous change.

Next year we are determined to bring our bill all the way through with even more support across New Mexico, and we hope students from other states can get on board as well. Real change only comes when we unite. I hope that word of our bill can reach students across the United States, and that we can collaborate as the next generation fighting for our future. Our generation will not tolerate inaction any longer. Times are changing, I can see, and students are leading the charge. I am so grateful to be a part of this historic movement.