My time in New Mexico public education taught me that our public schools are woefully ill-equipped to prepare the next generation with the tools we need to solve the climate crisis.
To better prepare students to solve the problems of today, we can no longer follow the culprits and the colonized mindset that brought us here. By holding public education hostage to oil and gas revenue, our politicians are not only sentencing students to a poor education, they are also auctioning off our livelihoods.
New Mexico had been a resource colony even before it was a state. Now, New Mexico is the second-biggest oil-producing state in the nation, with little to show for it beyond a legacy of sacrifice zones. Our state ranks lowest in the nation for public education, with the lowest overall opportunity and quality of life, and the highest rates of childhood poverty and hunger.
New Mexico politicians tell us that being a resource colony, and extracting oil and gas means improving our state, giving us more to spend on education and on the future of our children. They promise endless profit through the destruction of our lands and culture. They promise better education for students while they frack away our future.
Children of the 21st century are the ones forced to reckon with these broken promises.
We’ve seen years of drought and forest fires, rising temperatures and destructive oil spills. We’ve seen firsthand the ecosystems that once thrived in the Rio Grande visibly struggle as countless species face extinction, the river itself drying up for more miles each year than ever before. We’ve watched forest fires shroud our horizons, no longer a seasonal event, but now a season in and of itself.
Generation Z can’t look to the future with the same hope that previous generations have. We have grown up in the shadow of fear, uncertainty and denial. We are experiencing the chain reactions of compounding crises. We know the opportunities our parents and previous generations have had will not be available to us. We are saddled with debt, ill-prepared to choose from a palette of careers, every one unstable in climate catastrophe.
If our leaders allow for the continued colonization of New Mexico’s education, and perpetuate the stranglehold of oil and gas, we will remain on the path to nowhere, with no tools to face the challenges ahead.
My generation has risen up, not by desire, but by necessity. Now, our leaders must step up, turning their climate rhetoric into actual policy, abandoning the colonizing mindset for a frame of climate justice. We cannot afford the continued sacrifice of our land, lives and livelihoods to more broken promises.
Elia Vasquez of Española is a WildEarth Guardians intern and a sophomore at New Mexico State University. She is the daughter of State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia-Richard.