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The Young People and the Climate

Climate change has grasped the attention of many, especially because of the outburst the younger generation. This issue was largely taken up after Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg began missing school every Friday to protest her government’s lax stance on climate change. Thunberg’s popularity exploded and her tactics were adopted by other European school children who also began protesting their government’s non-committal stance on climate change. American teenager Alexandria Villasenor was inspired by Thunberg and has been protesting as Thunberg did, every Friday outside of New York’s United Nation’s building. Villasenor is a coordinator of U.S. Youth Climate Strike which encourages American youth to protest on Friday, March 15 for changes in how the U.S. is seeing climate change.

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization that believes in a Green New Deal, originally meant to protest in front of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and asked Representive Alexandria Osacio-Cortez for support on a Green New Deal the organization drafted. The Green New Deal is outlined to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions, supply millions of jobs to Americans, invest in infrastructure and industry, maintain environmental cleanliness and health, and has a social justice component that protects minority groups from oppression. It is the first proposed bill by a youth-led organization that has garnered this much national attention, yet is not the first youth-run platforms working to protect the environment.

In 1996, Deborah Leta Habib wrote a piece about students of color living in cities and their approach towards environmental crisis. These students were working on  forming clubs at school to discuss how to move away from certain organizations that harm the environment, and contacting their local representatives due to environmental issues impacting their schools, homes, and communities. Habib claimed that these students would become wise leaders due to their desire for change and knowledge.

The environmental and conservation efforts in the past have majorly been enacted or in place due to presidential or political leaders. Efforts like the creation of the national parks, and the clean-ups and regulations of disasters that have polluted the environment such as oil explosions affecting the land or pesticides killing off birds can be attributed to people in positions of power.Yet, a good degree of attention on environmental affairs did occurred because of public outrage on issues such as animal endangerment, disasters made by man-made products, and other ways to conserve and protect the environment.

While these students may not all have become these wise trailblazers on environmental issues, people made their communities aware of environmental concerns. And when communities were concerned, their representatives were notified and legislation was passed.

This power shift of students not really impacting legislation or countries have changed in the recent years with students having so much more power on talking about environmentalism due to a better platform. Organizations like International Youth Climate Movement connects young people from all over the world to talk about what can be done next. Over 500 marches are planned in over ten countries by young people to bring attention to the global issue for climate change.

The young people brought up the discussion internationally now in a way that they were unable to do before. They discussed a legitimate issue, climate change, and are holding their political leaders accountable. The original Green New Deal does not have to go through, yet its acceptance and discussion in politics is revolutionary and important for the young environmental activists who first drafted it. It is an opening discussion on a topic that many refused to partake in or believe in the first place. It holds to the belief that Habib held long ago– that youth will spearhead that change.

Greta Thunberg spoke at EU before President Juncker, ending her speech on climate change by stating, “We have started to clean up your mess, and we will not stop until we are done.” And all green activists before Thunberg will surely agree.

Photo: Sunrise Movement via Twitter

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