This Friday, young people in the Unites States are joining with the global youth climate movement to go on strike to demand that adults act responsibly to protect their future. Led by a coalition of nine youth climate organizations, young people are asking adults to join the strike in solidarity. Global climate activist Greta Thunberg, who sailed to the United States on a carbon-neutral ship to join the effort and participate in the UN climate summit, delivered a clear message in an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
“I think what we should do as individuals is to use the power of democracy to make our voices heard and to make sure that the people in power actually cannot continue to ignore this.”
The Sunrise Movement and other youth climate organizations have already had an enormous impact by ensuring that climate change is a top tier issue in the U.S. political debate running up to the 2020 election. Just a year ago, climate change was struggling to break through in a crowded issue environment dominated by health care, income inequality and gun violence.
That changed when Sunrise Movement activists sat in at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office shortly after the 2018 election to demand that she appoint a select committee on the Green New Deal. Their voices were amplified by newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who joined their protest. Pelosi responded by appointing a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which disappointed activists because the committee’s mandate did not specifically endorse the Green New Deal. Nonetheless, the establishment of the Select Committee, due to report on how to address the climate crisis next year, should be counted as a victory for youth climate activists.
Similarly, while the Democratic National Committee rebuffed demands for a dedicated climate debate, youth activists persuaded CNN to sponsor a seven-hour televised climate town hall, in which all major Democratic presidential candidates participated. Many candidates fleshed out detailed climate plans before the event, which proved far more substantive and informative than many observers anticipated. Some Republican members of Congress are also speaking out forcefully on the need for their party to abandon denial and get behind real solutions to the climate crisis.
Momentum is building for ambitious climate action as people increasingly connect the dots between heat-trapping pollution and the record storms, floods, and wildfires they are seeing all around them. A recent Washington Post – Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 78% of American adults view climate change as a major problem and half of those view it as a crisis. Many cities, states, and major companies are responding by committing to 100% clean energy targets.
Are all the demands being made by youth climate activists reasonable? Probably not, but they are far more reasonable than consigning young people to the degraded future we are headed for based on the woefully inadequate climate policies older generations have put in place. I suggest that older climate policy wonks — like me — restrain our tendency to get lost in the weeds and join with youth activists as allies in using the power of democracy to make our voices heard.