What a Cat Taught me about Fighting Climate Change

Hannah Melville-Rea, Class of 2019.

If people can care this much about one animal, why is it so hard to rally support for the planet?

One night, I was returning from dinner to my room at NYU Abu Dhabi when my friends and I came across an orange-spotted cat lying by the roadside. It was one of the cats that roam our campus, and she was badly injured from being hit by a car.

We took her to the veterinarian and were told she would need to be hospitalized for several weeks to have a chance at survival.

Worried about the hefty medical bill, I sought support from within the campus community, alerting friends and classmates about the feline in peril. I was instantly flooded with financial support, offers to chauffeur the cat to her vet visits, and even a foster home post-surgery.

This all happened at the same time I was struggling to organize and get people to attend various environmental awareness activities as a student leader for sustainability at NYUAD.

One of the resident street cats that live around the NYU Abu Dhabi campus.

While humbled by the compassion of our community members toward the campus cat, it also left me reflecting over a different question: If people can care this much about one animal, why is it so hard to rally support for the planet?

My parents live in Australia near the Great Barrier Reef where they make a living managing holiday apartments. With every heat wave and coral bleaching event that follows, their tourism business suffers and a piece of natural history dies. As a result, I feel a great personal sense of urgency to act.

My family is not the only one to feel the impact of climate change. Wildfires  have burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land California, record breaking floods in Kerala killed hundreds of people, and each day marine life insidiously consumes plastic to death with detrimental effects on the ecosystems and food chain. 

The planet is in trouble, so how do we get people to care in the same way they cared about an injured cat?

Engaging the Youth Generation

First, we must empower and give space for young people like me to enact change. I've met countless youth who are concerned, motivated, and passionate about doing something, but many don't know where to begin.

When youth are given a platform to be heard, it's important for us to frame our position, and spend less time talking about how to live sustainably and more time talking about why it matters.

With the prospect of climate change directly impacting our future, I’m personally encouraged to see an increasing number of youth taking matters into their own hands and getting involved.

As an undergraduate student, I attended the UN climate summits that formed the Paris Agreement, as well as the Paris Rule Book, where youth were exceptionally aware and dedicated.

Similarly, while attending the G7 youth summit, I formed policy recommendations with other youth delegates, and some of our phrasing was directly taken up by the G7 in their Oceans Plastic Charter.

In Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom, thousands of children are striking from school, calling for political action on climate change. 

A sign reads, "There Is No Planet B", as parents carry children among thousands marching through central Oslo, Norway, to support action on global climate change. iStock

Add Nature into Education

Second, we have to teach kids early to love and respect nature. My elementary school, Toyokawa Shogakkou, was established in 1899 on the outskirts of Osaka, Japan, tucked away in an envelope of crammed houses and rice fields amid an expanding urban sprawl.

As a fourth and fifth grader, under the guidance of a neighborhood farmer, I planted, harvested, and cooked rice all by hand in a small paddy within the school grounds.

Our school song has three verses, which respectively begin with: a sunrise over a local mountain, a shower of cherry blossom petals, and the moving breeze in the rice fields.

During the summers, I often worked as a camp counselor in the mountains of northern Japan, where we introduced children from Tokyo to the great outdoors. Day one almost always consisted of frightened city kids dodging insects, but by the end of the week, they began to enjoy hiking, stargazing, and bug catching.

I hope nature education will stick with them for life, even subconsciously, the same way that it has for me.

Get Exposed to Nature

Finally, even if you grew up in the city, it’s never too late to become one with nature. Try camping, stare at a dark night sky full of stars, or wake up at dawn and wait for the birds to venture out.

If you’ve already been given many opportunities to interact with the natural world, introduce it to someone who hasn’t.

Not Schrodinger's Cat

Sadly, the campus cat died from an infection about three weeks into her treatments. The many hours and dirhams that went into trying to revive her never felt like they were wasted. We did all we could, and I have no regrets. I wish I could say the same about our collective commitment to saving the planet.

I think we all need to go out and get to know the environment in the same way we might get to know a neighborhood street cat. Perhaps that way, as we realize that we may lose it, we will finally collectively fight for the planet's survival.

Hannah Melville-Rea, Class of 2019, is a political science major with minors in economics and the environment. She is the longest standing member of NYUAD’s student sustainability organization Ecoherence and co-president of the NYUAD youth climate think tank Green House. She is passionate about finding solutions to pressing environmental challenges and also likes cats.