Senior Jonathan Siskind inspires peers with speech

November 10, 2021

In late September, student activists led their peers from the West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School to John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge in a climate strike.

Members of the youth-led statewide campaign “Confront the Climate Crisis” shared speeches and announced their two pieces of climate legislation being introduced into the 2022 Indiana legislative session with support of Republican Sen. Ron Alting.

Senior and climate justice activist Jonathan Siskind has been involved in climate activism for about a year and a half and is a legislative director of the Confront the Climate Crisis Campaign. Jonathan was one of those students who took to the stand Friday, sharing a speech that resonated with many:

“It all started with a spark. About 14 billion years ago, a couple of gluons bumped into some quarks, which created some electrons, protons, and neutrons, which formed some atoms, which eventually composed the stars and planets. Earth was one of these planets. But Earth wasn’t like the rest of them. It had something special – it had its own little spark. It was just the right distance away from the Sun, it happened to have a really resilient atmosphere, and it also happened to have a lot of water. Taken individually, these factors meant nothing, but together, they meant something incredible, something so unique that it might not exist anywhere else. Life. Life is a beautiful thing, and for millions of years it flourished and prospered.

Members of Confront the Climate Crisis. Jonathan Siskind is pictured second from the right.

But then we rolled around, and uh, not gonna lie, we kind of screwed it up. Animals are going extinct 1,000 times faster today than they should be. The entire world’s oceans are projected to swallow entire cities and habitats just within a few dozen years. Global temperatures are skyrocketing 10x faster than even natural rates of climate fluctuation.

And what do our leaders say to this? Not my problem. And I guess it is understandable. Most of our leaders are too busy stuffing their pockets with corporate cash and bashing people who actually care like us to have time to do anything about anything. Fortunately, there are still a couple of good ones left, like Mayor Dennis and Senator Alting who are here with us today. But for the most part, most of the folks up in Washington don’t seem interested in doing much.

So then, the burden falls on us – on people like you and me. And it’s not particularly a burden that I’m eager to lift. But I chose to play my part because I know I have no other choice. We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and we are the last generation that can do anything to stop it. And frankly, I’m scared. People talk about what kind of world our great grandchildren are going to live in, but I’m not even certain what kind of world I am going to live in. The effects of climate change aren’t far off in the distant future. They have already struck.

If there’s a family in the Marshall Islands whose home is being swallowed by the seas, that matters to me even if I don’t know if I’ll ever visit those islands in my lifetime.

Confront the Climate Crisis members gathered at the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge in West Lafayette.

If there’s a young child in India who feels hungry every afternoon after coming home from school because climate-change induced drought has left no food to put on the dinner table, that matters to me even though that child lives on the opposite end of the world.

If there’s an elderly man in Terre Haute who has difficulty breathing because he has respiratory problems induced by a coal-ash contaminated water supply, that matters to me even though I will never meet this man.

And if there’s hundreds of proud Hoosiers who have the resolve and passion to take time off school and work and instead come out on a Friday afternoon to show they care about all these people as well, that should matter to Indiana’s politicians and legislators, too.

But alas, it all starts with us. The best way for people up at the statehouse and around the world to hear our cries is by doing exactly what we are doing here today. Organizing, rallying, showing that we care – that this is the kind of issue that we not only vote on, but act on. And there is reason for hope because it is not just us, but millions more around the world who fight for the same cause we do. And I want to use the next minute or so to tell the stories of some of these global heroes.

Photo courtesy of UNICEF.

Tahsinn Udin saw how his neighbors in his home country of Bangladesh suffered from unbearable flooding and cyclones that were intensified by climate change. When Tahsinn was just 16, he founded the Lal Sabuj society, where he promoted bicycling in his hometown to reduce the amount of people in gas-guzzling cars. And since there is still a stigma against girls in many parts of Bangladesh, he and his group taught more than 100 girls how to bike.

Tahsinn set the spark.

Fourteen-year-old Russell Raymond’s home, school and neighborhood were devastated after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the Caribbean Island of Dominica in 2017. As a rising youth photographer, Russell decided to put his skills to use by photographing and documenting the effects of climate change around his island. Russell’s work is now featured on UNICEF and Fridays for Future.

Russell set the spark.

Photo by Russell Raymond.

Now let’s bring things back home, to one of our very own. Aleezay, a sixth-grader at West Lafayette Intermediate School, started an environmental club to engage her peers in the discussion around climate change and the fight for our planet. Aleezay, despite being far younger than the rest of us on the Confront the Climate Crisis team, continues to surprise me and inspire me through her dedication and motivation.

Aleezay set the spark.

Tahsinn, Russell, Aleezay and millions more have ignited the spark for action. And action is the solution. While our campaign is called Confront the Climate Crisis, the real crisis is not climate change. it’s not environmental destruction, or the sixth mass extinction – the real crisis is inaction. That’s the crisis at the Indiana Statehouse, that’s the crisis in Washington, that’s the crisis around the world. And the only way to solve the crisis of inaction is action. So this is my one request to you – find that spark within you to act. Tahnsinn used his spark to teach young people to bike, Russell used his spark to photograph the effects of climate change on his community and Aleezay used her spark to educate her peers about the climate. So I’d urge you all to find something you are good at, a skill, a talent, a knack you have for something special, and give it a little spark to turn it into your own form of climate action. I hope I’ve set my spark by igniting the spark within all of you.

Now, what are you going to do with yours?”
– Jonathan Siskind

This story was originally published by the Scarlette of West Lafayette High School.

Senior Jonathan Siskind inspires peers with speech