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  • Writer's pictureArielle Kouyoumdjian

Climate Stories From Around The Globe: Featuring Lani Hammerman

CPJ Journal is asking readers from around the globe to describe (in a medium they choose) how climate change is impacting themselves and their community. Congratulations to our third ever featured teen, Lani Hammerman! Lani is 14 and lives in Westchester, New York.

Lani's story was truly a joy to read--humorous, insightful, and introspective, it wraps a powerful message inside an engaging narrative.

I have had a passion for speaking about climate change since I was little. I think it must have started when my parents sent me to 2 weeks of overnight outdoor adventure camp in the middle of nowehre Colorado. We spent most of those weeks talking about how we could make the world a better place. I have gone back every year and I continued to be inspired by the camp's dedication to the climate, especially the beautiful rocky mountains surrounding the campus.

Growing up in a politically-divided neighborhood, something as simple as an evening family walk was a reminder that the change that I wanted to see in the world was far off. Walking by my neighbors’ lawns, I saw how their opinions seemed to differ from mine. First, I felt like I was living in a ghost town. There were no kids playing outside; no one walking their dogs and no one taking care of their own front yards. Also, many of the stickers plastered on street signs, signs on laws and flags hanging from front doors clued me into what they might think about the world’s climate, as they were supporting policies and political candidates who thought differently about the emergency of climate change. I wondered: why were we the only ones walking on the street each day? Were we the only ones composting our food waste? Did they have gardens, too, and get some of the same joy that I did from my little vegetable patch? I was really troubled. Did I really have so little in common with my neighbors? Around the time that I was 10, my dad thought of a great idea to both help our immediate, local environment and also introduce ourselves to our neighbors: we would organize a neighborhood cleanup! My family had been creeping around the woods behind our neighbors’ houses for years, searching for trash in an effort to protect and beautify the pristine nature around us. He wanted to share our sort of funny hobby with the people living nearby. We put flyers in mailboxes and hung posters in strategic spots - even under the political signs! We told a few people whom we (kind of) knew - and hoped for the best. The local government even assisted in providing trash bags and gloves. Since I hadn’t even laid eyes on many of the people living so close to me, my expectations were low. So, imagine my surprise when I walked the half-mile down to the woods that split our neighborhood into two parts, the turnout shocked me!

People whom I had never seen before were cleaning, laughing and blasting energizing music. What a sight to behold! They brought heavy tools and pickup trucks. Someone even connected a chain to an old bed in the woods to haul it out. We collected tons (actually) of junk and made a real difference. My family and I went on to host these clean-ups for years to come. Although this experience may have been humbling in that it showed me how wrong I was to discount my neighbors, I was glad to see the people around me respond so nicely. These people weren’t helping because they were necessarily worried about shrinking glaciers or rising sea levels, they were helping because they cared about the beauty of our immediate environment - and, because someone directly asked for their help. Although we know that these two things can correlate, they don’t always. Still, I was reminded that everybody has to start somewhere.

The science and morals behind climate change aren't what make the biggest difference in opinions on the topic. Sometimes, it can be appreciating the beauty of the planet with the people nearest to you. Sometimes, it’s just about putting up a sign and getting your neighbors to join you - a simple, first step against climate change.

--Lani Hammerman

Featured Art: New Dawn, by Camille Kouyoumdjian

Ms. Kouyoumdjian is a professional artist specializing in abstract impressionism, and mixed-media representations of the wilderness. Her acrylic and collage piece, New Dawn, conveys the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. From the fungi devouring dead leaves on the forest floor, to the raptors soaring above the canopy, each element of nature plays a fundamental role in the carefully harmonized symphony of the natural world. Ms. Kouyoumdjian's piece reflects the perpetual self-renewal of a healthy ecosystem. This work is a hopeful reminder that, like the resurfacing sun, we too have the chance to begin again each dawn.

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