Juliet Varela

2019-2020 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Juliet Varela , 14
Honorable Mention, 14-16 Age Group
Lehigh Acres, FL

If the 400-year-old cypress tree could speak, what would it tell us? Nestled within the sanctuary of the Six Mile Cypress Slough in Fort Myers, Florida, sits a natural monument that I was lucky enough to view firsthand. Beneath the preserve’s emerald canopy- I, along with my 7th grade science class, trudged through the tannin-saturated waters, on a class fieldtrip. Hand-in-hand, the future linked arms around the ancient past, with one giant hug of the tree’s massive trunk. This symbolic gesture of an embrace gives hope, despite the encroaching sounds of a roaring nearby highway. The irony is not lost on this group of students. Henry David Thoreau’s warning echoes this sentiment: “I thought with regret how soon these trees, like the black birches that grew on the hill nearby, would be all cut off, and there would be almost nothing of the old Concord left, and we should be reduced to read old deeds in order to be reminded of such things,— deeds, at least, in which some old and revered bound trees are mentioned. These will be the only proof at last that they ever existed.”–Journal, November 8, 1858. These words still ring true, and beg the question: what natural legacy is society leaving for future generations? Before it is too late, we must appreciate the environment around us, recognize environmental threats to mitigate natural dangers, and work together, as we are all part of one planet- Earth.

To begin, growing up in Southwest Florida, I have always been surrounded by tropical landscape. Playing outside, I have always felt connected to the environment around me. In school, I have a passion for Environmental Science. Last winter, I was awarded the NOAA “Taking the Pulse of the Planet” award due to a project that focused on clarity of local waterways. I implore all young people to get outside and to immerse themselves in nature. It is so important to appreciate our natural world. In my neck of the woods, money from tourism drives the economy and more emphasis is spent on conservation. Some say it costs too much to put environmental protections in place, but the truth is that we cannot afford to lose our sacred nature. As youth, we cover each corner of the globe, and as stewards of our planet, our engagement matters. By working together, we can shape future policy that promotes planetary wellness.

Additionally, our world is facing an environmental crisis. Each week there are headlines of raging fires, devastating hurricanes, and natural disasters. It is paramount that we do not become complacent to this bad news, but that we innovate and become part of the solution. As a young person, it may seem impossible to save the world, but together we can do a lot. As youth activists, it is possible to make an impact. Start a recycling petition at school, join a tree planting organization, call or write your local politicians. The list goes on and on, just as the world becomes more and more turbulent. As future care-takers of our planet, engagement is key. All youth can do a little and together we can do a lot.

Finally, the time to act is now. One hundred and sixty-five years later, Henry David Thoreau’s words are just as relevant. “It is time we had done referring to our ancestors. We have used all our inherited freedom, like the young bird the albumen in the egg. It is not an era of repose. If we would save our lives, we must fight for them.” – Journal, June 16, 1854. These words of wisdom highlight the emergency we face, by cautioning all of us. If the older generation does not plan for the future, a dystopian legacy will be left behind. Youth cannot simply cast blame on past policy because that does not solve the problem.

In conclusion, legacy is not simply a birthright. In order for future generations to enjoy the bounty and beauty of our natural world, society has to act before it is too late. To combat environmental crisis, young and old alike must cooperate for the beneficence of our planet. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth day, and just as the tree-filtered sunlight shone onto the students the day of my 7th grade fieldtrip, there is a glimmer of hope in that we are all stewards of the planet and as a society we can work together to leave a positive natural legacy if we all just live deliberately.