At age 17, Antonio Green has already had an adventure-filled life; only all of those experiences had been painful and virtually disastrous.
But now, he’s weeks away from embarking on the trip of his lifetime that will redeem his past life, test his strengths and position him to possibly help uplift others.
Green, a passionate environmental advocate, will be part of a delegation of NAACP Coastal Youth Climate Justice Leaders to make a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland and witness the historic melting of the ice surrounding the North Arctic region.
“I plan to take my experience and inspire interest in other young people of the need to get involved,” says Green. “This is our planet, our future. A system which was supposed to protect me, failed. I plan to make sure that I do not fail in my responsibility to protect the planet where I live. We cannot depend on others to do it for us. Our future has been politicized long enough.”
Green will take with him a wealth of knowledge and real-life experience. Much of his learning has been developed in his environmental science class at Gulfport High School, which is taught by Mr. Hale Switzer. That goes along with his personal witnessing of Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Through his own personal probe, Green has long expressed concern about the pH balance and acidity of the Gulf Coast waters and how its ecosystem appears to be eroding. He has also been troubled about how carbon dioxide and nitrogen has impacted the ozone. He worries about what he sees as the migration of invasive species to the country like the tiger mosquitoes and popcorn trees. Even though popcorn trees were originally brought to this country decades ago for their ornamental beauty and for use in soap making, they choke native vegetation, which is essential to native wildlife. Their seeds are also toxic to humans and animals, especially cattle.
“Birds feeding on the seeds of popcorn trees scatter the seeds from these invasive trees and causes rapid reproduction and growth of more trees,” said Antonio. “I worry about climate change events causing us to breed even more unwanted, toxic species.”
Green’s intense studies enriched him and helped taken him above the heartaches of his past struggles. Just before turning five years old, he was placed in the custody of DHS, and as a result implanted into an encumbered, underfunded, inadequately monitored and sometimes insolent foster care system.
It was also at age five that Green was confronted with Gulfport becoming ravaged by the horrific climate disasters of Hurricane Katrina. He was too young to fully understand what was happening with his personal life while simultaneously experiencing the havoc reaped on all who lived through Katrina’s path of unyielding devastation. Antonio has vivid, indelible memories of these life-altering events and they are a foundation upon which he has built a resolve to secure a better future for himself and for all inhabitants of our earth.
At age nine, about six months before his 10th birthday, Antonio saw the beautiful shores of Gulfport annihilated by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. He was unsure what all of this meant at the time but it peaked his consciousness and intensified his interest in the environment.
But tragedy continued for Green when he lost his mother four days after his 10th birthday and lost his father the next year. Being under foster care, he has not received specific information as the exact cause of their deaths.
The tragic events in Green’s life did make him feel like he was “walking around with a hole in his heart,” but he was determined to build a positive life and be a good example of the remainder of his family members, especially his siblings. He put more focus on knowing that he can make significant contributions in protecting our earth and our climate. He sees a need for our earth to have the custodial protections that he lacked for much of his young life.
Green, through attending several seminars, has been taught about sea level rise caused by melting ice. He is aware that melting ice is not only endangering the habitats which depend on ice for survival but has far-reaching effects on humans and food chain sources as the rising seas across the globe are causing mounting consequences. He has witnessed record flooding.
Several reports and assessments released by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources place cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast along Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties as potential high risks from rising sea levels. Such assessments include a summary of sea level rise projections from eleven different reports and published research papers. The results indicate that coastal Mississippi could experience sea level increases of 16.6 inches in twenty years, 41.5 inches in fifty years, and 74.7 inches by the year 2100.
These are dismal projections for which Green is determined to use his voice to diminish and avert. He will now have an opportunity to amplify his voice with what he expects to see first-hand. His trip to Iceland will give him an opportunity to connect that melting ice to the sea level rise on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Editor’s note: Green now lives in the custody of his grandmother, Annie Lee. Katherine Egland is Chair of the Environmental Climate Justice Committee of the National NAACP, as well as ECJ Chair of the Gulfport branch and is on the NAACP National Board of Directors.