Why I am joining the inaugural class of Columbia University’s Climate School

Climate Voices

Why I am joining the inaugural class of Columbia University’s Climate School

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I’m in the climate fight out of necessity — you should be too, whatever your job or background.

This, for me, was the point of no return. I stayed in bed for a week after I had read the 2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land. By the time this week’s IPCC report came out, I was prepared for the bad news. I hoped it would be a galvanizing moment but just a day later the headlines refreshed and we were back to business as usual. 

It has become more than clear that we are no longer waiting for climate catastrophes to hit, we are currently living them. Nonetheless, it is important to focus on the fact that we have the power to affect how bad it will get, and how quickly … That is one reason I am joining the inaugural class of the Climate School at Columbia University.

As I enter the class, there are a couple of trends underway: 1) There is a mobilization among governments, NGOs, companies and financial institutions on climate, it does not appear very effective or well organized. 2) ‘‘Business as usual” continues to drive everything from news coverage in The New York Times, and the so-called “net zero” response, to a broken political process in the world’s capitals. 3) Most importantly, extreme climate violence is killing people at a rapidly escalating rate. 

I still get chills when I read the daily headlines. You don’t get used to it, you can’t. The climate doom loop can intimidate anyone. The end of the world, as a singular catastrophe, is a western fiction. It will be a slow burn. We are headed towards the denouement of human time. So, to people who say my generation is increasingly anxious and despairing, well yes we are, and rightly so. This does not mean your life, work and career are separate from action. To act you must be driven by this anxiety and despair. You must sit down and process the world. You must grieve with the world. You can no longer avoid the headlines or ignore the scientists. I am in the climate fight out of necessity. Anyone and everyone has a role in the new green economy regardless of their background or job. 

I am in the climate fight out of necessity. Anyone and everyone has a role in the new green economy regardless of their background or job. 

For this reason, I go to Columbia’s Climate School with hope. People think that knowing the science and still having hope at this point is radical. But I believe that to truly have hope must mean that you have embraced uncertainty and have made the decision to act

My engagement with climate action started when I was at The Cooper Union in New York. I began to seriously pivot my studies from art to climate after an onslaught of alarming events that seemed to go unnoticed by too many of my peers in the art, architecture and engineering schools alike: the IPCC report, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the endless rollbacks of EPA regulation just to name a few.  

The world continued moving business as usual but I decided to refuse to do so. I stayed home, just for a day. My small, silent protest allowed me to breathe in a way I hadn’t in a long time. It was then that I read Rebecca Solnit’s “Hope in the Dark.” She put it simply: if the French civilians did not see past the monarchy then they would have never been able to topple it. I realized that if we could not see past our current growth-at-all-costs system we would not be able to rebuild a better world.

I enter Columbia determined to demonstrate that to be engaged in climate issues, one does not have to be a climate policy wonk, scientist or an activist. The issues that surround the climate crisis extend into each and every field of work. We must all learn how to transition to this better world and that will require a united front willing and able to work together.  

The issues that surround the climate crisis extend into each and every field of work.

So what needs to change? 

Stop pretending that we still have a shot at living like we used to.

The future of the climate crisis will not exist in a context of abundance for most. We must begin to actively engage with the unsustainability of our current existence. We must learn how to let it go and rebuild a world that nurtures our interdependencies, and fights against our transactional relationships with human and non-human life. 

We must embrace interdisciplinarity with open arms. 

To move forward, we must embrace an entirely interdisciplinary approach to adaptation and mitigation. It is hard to understand and truly see the climate crisis because it permeates all aspects of our social, economic and institutional structures. To redesign the world, we will have to learn to work together with all disciplines and types of knowledge. This will mean we will have to let go of ego. 

Actively communicate the world we could have.

Doomsday apocalypse scenarios are easy to comprehend. It’s a lot harder to communicate and work for radical compassion, community and strong organization. The unity we construct will be integral to our future. The next deeply uncertain years will require all of us to bear the responsibility as well. None of us have the privilege or luxury of ignoring climate change. Soon enough every field will place climate at the top of their agenda. Current notions of our day-to-day will become as obsolete as coal. The sooner we choose to adapt and mitigate, the less painful our futures will be. In the end, none of this will matter unless we see past the end of fossil-fueled growth at any cost. 

To fully engage the climate crisis, we must question all of our existing systems, which means demanding that institutions, companies and global businesses abandon bureaucracy as usual. We must move at the pace of the rapidly developing climate crisis.

But that means letting go of the world you once knew. 

It will be easier that way.


Written by

Alisa Petrosova

Alisa Petrosova is a curator, writer, organizer and recent graduate of The Cooper Union, New York, USA. This fall, she will begin her graduate studies at Columbia Climate School, New York.