Written by Sophia Neiblum
To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I should write a blog post. I’m in high school and haven’t had nearly as much experience in conservation as many others. But I ultimately decided that my experience, although limited, is unique in some way.
My name is Sophia Neiblum, and I’m a 16-year-old living in Pennsylvania, USA. A few years ago, I began to read books about marine life, environmental science, and the climate crisis. Since then, I’ve read many books on the subjects: Beyond Words by Carl Safina, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. These books, more than anything else, sparked my interest in the ocean. Throughout the years, reading has been a consistent force in my passion for nature and the environment.
When I was a freshman, I heard of a few people who had graduated a year early from high school, and the idea immediately captured my interest. Getting out of high school and doing something exciting and meaningful in nature/conservation sounded like the perfect thing for me. I’ve never been very extroverted, so I didn’t have much of a problem missing prom and other senior year events. Graduating early is kind of unheard of in my high school, and it took quite a bit of negotiating with administrators and guidance counselors. In the end, though, they were very accommodating of me. I’m very grateful for that and for the support and encouragement I’ve received from friends and family.
Now entering my junior (11th grade) year, I’m looking more closely into what my gap year will look like. I think I will try to find an internship or volunteer at a local nature center for part of the year, working on the side to save for the future. Travelling abroad to volunteer is also a possibility. I’m thankful that I have the ability to travel, especially as this pandemic hurts many both physically and financially. The corona virus situation will definitely play a role in my decisions for the year, although I’m hopeful travel will be possible by the spring of 2022.
I’m also well aware of the social aspects of graduating early and taking a gap year. I realize there will be days when I’m doing difficult, laborious work while my peers go to parties and school dances. That I will most likely lose touch with people other than my close friends and family. That social media will become difficult for me to use, seeing how my life for that year is so different and removed from my friends. In that way, among others, I feel like a lonely conservationist. But these social aspects aren’t deterring me—I’m confident that the experience, whatever it turns out to be, will be worth it.
Being a conservationist (if I can call myself that) is both empowering and saddening at my age. Participating in cleanups and climate action marches gives me hope for the future, but reading about the possibilities of climate breakdown brings me back to feeling somewhat hopeless. There’s an environmental club at my school of which I am an active member, and sometimes I can’t help but feel as though we are never doing enough. I guess this relates to all conservation. Our club does highway cleanups, goes on hikes, and puts up recycling posters in the hallways, to name a few things. I just think of the futility of those actions in the grand scheme of things, and it makes me sad and anxious. I need to remind myself during those moments that every small action really does make a difference, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
Social media does little to help climate anxiety. Seeing the horrible things happening to wildlife and natural lands all over the world is very difficult for me, as I assume it is for many. The immensity of the issues leads me to feeling hopeless at times. Also, the ever-present nature of social media, where people are expected to log on every day, adds to this constant anxiety about the climate and other issues.
One way I deal with climate anxiety (and just general worries about the world) is through writing. I took a creative writing class in school a few years ago, and it got me interested in writing poetry especially. To be able to create something from nothing, whether it be a poem, a work of art, or any other creative endeavor, is so therapeutic. When I feel overwhelmed about the state of things, climate-wise or otherwise, I find that writing keeps me sane and helps me take care of myself before I worry about the world. Here’s a poem I wrote this April, sitting outside and looking at the flowers behind my house:
Is it somehow fitting
That when the world is closed
The people are all at home
Nature begins to bloom?
The coming of a new spring
Brings forth life life life
Protected, for once
As the people stay inside.
Their CO2 finally recedes
Gas slides away from choking trees
And allows them to breathe
For the first time in years.
Flowers bloom bright in the sun
Red pink yellow white
Petals remain unplucked
Branches remain uncrushed.
Birds trees squirrels flowers
All take one big
You see, the timing was perfect
Spring sprung right in time
While the people were inside
Writing this post has allowed me to take a real look at my relationship with conservation and climate anxiety. I’m so glad I stumbled onto the Lonely Conservationists Instagram page. Maybe I’ll write another blog post in the future when I’ve got some more experience in the field/industry. Thanks so much for reading. <3
For more of Sophia, check out @sophia.neiblum on Instagram