by Karina Alvarez

I open this blog with a confession: for longer than I’d care to admit, I was a firm climate denier. Later, after my first environmental science class I felt the weight of the climate crisis resting heavily on my shoulders, and I was overwhelmed. I set out to make up for time spent denying the reality, but my initial years in the environmental movement were marked with plenty of doubt – both in myself and in the movement – and quite a bit of frustration, a sentiment that I’m sure many of you readers have also felt.

Then I learned about Fossil Free. Initially, I was so drawn to the divestment campaign because of the incredible support and solidarity I found between members of the movement. Because of the global scale of the climate crisis, the divestment community is necessarily also global. Individuals from a vast spectrum of religious, cultural, national, and gender identities who found a common cause that transcends these boundaries. I stuck with the campaign because I saw what a powerful tool it is for effecting significant social change at the root of the climate crisis.

I’m not a religious person, but I have been moved by the words of Pope Francis, who has alluded many times to the destructive influence of fossil fuel industries, especially in his Laudato Si’ encyclical: The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.” (Para 54, Laudato Si’)

Indeed, I’m angry that fossil fuel companies purposefully disregard our future health and safety for their own present wealth. I’m frustrated that those who least contributed to this crisis, including our generation, will be the ones to pay the most. I’m grieving for those lives already lost to environmental injustices. Yet I still look to the global divestment campaign as a source of hope. 

I am attending World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow because it is a huge opportunity specifically for our generation, the first to spend our entire lives in the climate crisis, to reclaim our futures. As one of the largest gathering of youth in the world, WYD is a forum for us to raise our voices and call world leaders to the issues we care about. It is a place to learn from each other about differing cultures, alternate perspectives and concerns. It’s a space for building not just large coalitions, but also individual relationships with one another as members of a global community. And as a result, we can together work to implement the universal ideals from Laudato Si’ into our local communities from an international perspective.

Despite being the least religious generation alive, youth of all religious backgrounds – myself included – have been inspired to action by Pope Francis’ message. Pope Francis and Laudato Si’ have moved me to realize the power of faith during the climate crisis – whether it be faith in  God, in humanity, or in this global movement.  I am attending WYD because, although I may not believe in an almighty power, I do believe in the power of the youth. World Youth Day is a crucial opportunity to strengthen and grow the global fossil fuel divestment campaign, and thus itself an investment in our own futures.