Personal Perspective: Rami Kabakibi

Managing Editor Rami Kabakibi explores his journey with climate activism and reflects on how his passion for the environment has transformed his life.

I get anxious when I’m in cars or planes.

I fidget in my seat, glance nervously out the window, tap my fingers on my thigh rapidly — in short, I want to get out as quickly as I can.

My anxiety isn’t caused by fear. I’m not scared of high-speed vehicles. I’m not concerned about crashing or engine failure. 

My anxiety is caused by facts. The fact that an average car pumps 4.6 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. The fact that a single 200-mile plane trip emits 109 pounds of CO2 per passenger. The fact that our planet is crumbling to ashes, and we’re the ones holding the torch underneath it.

These facts are a burden. They are things I know I must carry for the rest of my life.

My passion for the environment started to take root during COVID-19. One day, I remember opening my front door and seeing a TIME magazine lying on the doorstep, the July 20, 2020 issue, bold black letters stamped across its cover: “One Last Chance.” And in smaller text below that: “The Defining Year for the Planet.”

Having grown up in San Diego, I was, of course, aware of the term climate change; it was thrown into news reports I heard on the radio, slipped into my elementary school science assignments and offhandedly mentioned in dinner table discussions. But at that time, I didn’t grasp the true destructive power of what the term represented.

Reading that TIME magazine was a wake-up call. It educated me about the scientific basis of climate change, the major industries contributing to it and the overwhelming number of animal and plant species it is threatening with extinction. It shared the personal stories of farmers whose livelihoods were destroyed by drought, leaders of island countries overtaken by rising sea levels and refugees fleeing villages annihilated by floods. In essence, it showed me that climate change is the single biggest threat to our collective future.

As distance learning dragged on, I started pouring over U.N. climate reports and studying climatic research from centers like the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. All the while, the alarm bells sounding in my head grew progressively louder.

I started to view almost every aspect of my life in relation to its impact on the environment. Things I didn’t even think twice about before became the source of internal conflict and rumination.

Transportation came first. The revving of a motor, the roar of an engine, the smell of exhaust billowing from tailpipes — these things started to repulse me. I began biking everywhere: to school, to soccer practice, to the library, to the gym — even when it didn’t make logistical sense. The feeling of satisfaction I experienced, arriving at my destination with the inner knowledge that I had emitted zero greenhouse gasses, was worth the inconvenience.

Trash and waste management was next. This coincided with my sophomore year at TPHS, the first year we came back fully in-person. With the addition of the statewide free lunch program and a total lack of recycling bins on campus, I remember walking around during lunch, picking up trash from the floor and stuffing it in my lunchbox to recycle at home. 

I remember asking my parents to avoid buying groceries in plastic packaging and urging them to start composting. I remember gathering bottles and cans strewn on the side of the road and putting them in my backpack on walks home from school.

These are all things I still do. To be honest, I don’t look at the world the same way anymore. Educating oneself about the environmental crisis and our everyday actions that contribute to it is like putting on a pair of prescription glasses, adopting a new lens to view your surroundings with. 

And the truth is that once they’re on, these glasses cannot come off. The climate crisis is something I can’t ignore or disentangle from my own life.

How could I, when the melting of ice sheets in the Antarctic is causing krill to rapidly die off and Adélie penguins to starve? When Asian elephants are wandering miles in vain to find water for their calves? When coral are in such agony in superheated waters that they have to expel their symbiotic algae, turning from colorful havens of life to gray skeletons?

I’m sharing my raw, unfiltered feelings because, quite frankly, they can be overwhelming at times. They can feel like a dead weight in my stomach, and at the same time so insignificant in the face of such a monstrous issue. 

But perhaps I’m also sharing these bleak emotions to remind myself that there is another, far more powerful one. One that has dwelled in my heart and stubbornly refused to flicker out amid gusts of pessimism and despair: hope.

I’ve found hope in environmental action. In joining local organizations like SanDiego350 and Youth4Climate, I’ve planned educational summits, strikes and rallies in the community, met with local policymakers to discuss environmental legislation and spoken at the City of San Diego’s Environment Committee. I’ve worked with SDUHSD officials on our district’s climate action and made environmental journalism my unofficial beat on the Falconer, writing stories about climate change and its impacts in San Diego.

I’ve found hope in all the wonderful and incredibly inspiring people I’ve met on my environmental journey: climate scientists, botanists, oceanographers, park rangers, fellow youth activists and more — people dedicating their lives to studying and protecting our planet.

I’ve found hope in the sheer resiliency of nature. I’ve learned to appreciate how unfathomably complex and interconnected Earth’s ecosystems are, like orchestras playing in flawless harmony with each other.

I’ve found hope in the warm kiss of the sun on my cheek and the tendrils of gold threading through the clouds in the evening. In the whisper of the wind through the pine trees, the symphony of birdsong rising from the canyon, the low hum of a bumblebee collecting pollen from a purple rose and the gentle sigh of the ocean as it spreads itself thin on the sand.

Don’t give up now, they all seem to say. Our planet still needs you. 

Your future still needs you.

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