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Student storytellers share the personal impacts of climate change

Activists take part in a protest outside of the COP-27 U.N. Climate Summit on Nov. 18, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Peter Dejong/AP
Activists take part in a protest outside of the COP-27 U.N. Climate Summit on Nov. 18, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Stories about the impacts of climate change on everyday lives are becoming more commonplace. Wednesday evening on the Northern Arizona University campus, student storytellers will share how a warming planet has affected them directly as part of an event called Beyond Climate Breakdown.

It takes place at the Cline Library Assembly Hall at 7 p.m. The event also features NAU professor Peter Friederici, author of the new book also called “Beyond Climate Breakdown.”

KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with Megan Quinn, a biology graduate student, who’ll share some of her experiences with the international climate movement.

Ryan Heinsius: You attended the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Egypt in November and that brought together, I believe, 190 countries. For you, what was the main takeaway?

Megan Quinn: For me, it was just really amazing to see all these just like normal people that I could just go up and talk to, just all together in the same place with the same mission. It was really cool all the different connections I made. Like, I met a researcher from Nigeria who did research on the impacts of climate change in Nigeria, and I do research here in Arizona, so it was just really cool to see people from all over the world, but we all had a connection that we were working towards, climate action and climate justice.

RH: What story will you be sharing and what inspired you to share it?

MQ: I found that science when paired with a story is much more interesting and much more relatable. So, I’m going to share the stories of the people I met at COP-27 because sometimes the world leaders, they’re not as inspiring as they could be, but I think normal people are really inspiring so I just want to tell the stories of normal people to help inspire normal people here too.

RH: Are there any normal people who you encountered at COP-27 who stick out to you?

MQ: Yeah, one of my favorite conversations I had was with a young climate activist named Rahmina Paulette from Kenya. And she’s just 16 years old but she has a whole business. She employs women to make things out of an invasive reed to try to help control the population of this invasive reed in Kenya and she is a very well-known climate activist on Instagram. So just getting to talk to her and see her energy and passion surrounding climate action was really inspiring.

RH: Your generation is likely to be more dramatically affected by climate change in the form of water shortages, wildfires and other impacts. How does this play out in your everyday life with the choices that you make?

MQ: One of my passions is just being outside like a lot of people here in Flagstaff. Going out skiing and seeing the winters warming has been really hard because I want future generations to be able to enjoy the mountains. Also, when I go biking and see the decimated landscape from the wildfires that’s really sad. So, it can make me pretty anxious about what the future’s going to look like. But in my everyday life I struggle a lot with, how do I even make a difference? I think coming together with a lot of people, joining Citizens’ Climate Lobby and helping out with them and seeing how a group of people can move things at a lot faster pace and take a lot more action together, versus me as just an individual just not eating meat or something. So, just like the power of collective action—I think I’ve tried to get involved into groups a lot more with similar goals.

RH: Yeah, and I imagine that kind of helps in keeping your hope alive, I guess, to a degree. How do younger generations avoid the trap of a sort of climate despair?

MQ: It’s definitely not easy because a lot of the predictions aren’t great and sometimes it feels like there’s not a lot of hope. But finding hope in other people’s stories and other people—seeing their enthusiasm is really what inspires me to keep going. And also, just spending time outside and looking at the trees and realizing how much I love Earth and how cool it is to live here right now and just realize what I’m protecting and what I’m fighting for helps me keep going too.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.