Growing up, I had many wishes. But if I had to pick the top three now, I would say that my first wish would be to skydive after college graduation. My second wish would be the health and happiness of all my loved ones. And my third wish would be to help tackle climate change through my life-long career and to the best of my ability.

Before moving to Davis, I spent the first 18 years of my life in my hometown, Guangzhou, a city in southeastern China. I had quite an atypical childhood compared to other Chinese kids. My dad rented a farm where my family would spend a lovely Sunday afternoon biking and playing games. And during holidays, while my peers’ parents were fighting to enroll their kids to the best tutoring classes in the city, my parents were excitedly taking me and my siblings on fun adventures. Hence, many of my childhood memories came from traveling with my family, from horse riding on grasslands in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China, to having lunch under cherry blossoms in New Zealand, from exploring beautiful beaches in Thailand, to getting lost in a Canadian primary forest, and from seeing amazing yet almost dying corals in the Great Barrier Reef, to snorkeling with jellyfish in Palau.

Through traveling, I have developed a deep, irreplaceable connection to nature from a young age. However, it was not until a hike in the Gobi desert when I was 16 did I realize how urgent the climate issue was. It was the most unforgettable trip ever: my family and I spent four days in the Gobi desert, curling up in tents at night, and bearing the freezing wind with sand blowing to our faces. I didn’t enjoy that experience at all; it was exhausting, unimaginable, and painful. Though the Gobi desert had existed millions of years ago, it had been and would continue expanding like some of the deserts around the world. And at that moment as I thought about deserts growing elsewhere in the world, I truly hoped things could change, that the world’s rate of desertification could slow down and that my grandchildren would never have to go through or live in a similar condition.

Jenny Zhong (front) and siblings (back) at Tasman Glacier in Mt. Cook National Park New Zealand August 2019. Photo courtesy Jenny Zhong.

My mom, who is a Buddhist, often draws a circle in the air with her finger and says, “everything you do to others, whether good or bad, will eventually come back to you.” I cannot agree more with this. Activities that we do, like burning fossil fuels, polluting the oceans, destroying habitats, and many, many others that harm the planet, will eventually lead us, human beings, into critical danger. Similar to the way we destroy the Earth, the Earth will in turn destroy us in the form of rising sea levels, extreme climate events, more severe wildfires, and so on.

As a Chinese saying goes, “a happy childhood can heal one’s life,” I have carried my childhood memories with me no matter where I go. Those memories have been sources of remedy and encouragement that have kept me moving forward through difficult times. Therefore, I want my children and generations to come to have similarly happy childhoods, to be able to immerse in the beauty of nature, and to grow into resilient and positive individuals no matter where they go and what they have to go through.

Our Earth is powerful yet fragile. A few years ago, as I hiked on the Tasman Glacier on Mt. Cook National Park of New Zealand, I had completely mixed feelings. I admired how spectacular the glacier was, but at the same time, I wondered if my grandchildren would still have a chance to experience those incredible ice caves in their lifetimes. The answer, I know, depends on what you and I do TODAY.

We are running out of time.

Editor’s Note: Jenny Zhong is our Cool Davis – UC Davis Writing Program intern this year. She is crafting sustainability story models and guidance to implement a community wide effort soon as well as some other fun projects. Look for a second story from Jenny in our next newsletter. 

Read Jenny’s other stories

Jenny Zhong: Family Environmental Advocate, Educator, Translator