Calling today’s youth “Generation Z” has no meaning. Calling them “Generation Climate Change” makes a lot more sense. A CBS News poll released this week shows that as public awareness of our climate crisis rises, younger Americans are “more serious, yet more optimistic” about the topic and our capacity to deal with it than any other age group.
This attention to climate change transcends boundaries, even oceans. What began last year as a simple act of protest by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg culminates today in a mass, coordinated global climate strike at 2,500 sites in 137 countries. With some 500 organizations and 1000+ companies supporting them, people around the world are walking out of their workplaces, homes, and schools to demand that leaders act now to restore our once-healthy climate.
Thunberg brought her blunt, yet inspiring message to Washington this week. She took multiple tacks, pleading to power brokers that, “Anyone with any insight into this must speak out in clear language no matter how uncomfortable or unprofitable it might be,” while also chiding them that, if they don’t, they’ll have some explaining to do in the future.
“Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything when there was still time to act,” Thunberg warned.
Thunberg’s simple call to “do anything” right now is crucially invigorating, even for those of us who have never given up looking for solutions to our biggest problems — for example, trying to transform our energy and transportation systems to minimize greenhouse gases and heal the climate. It’s easy to become cynical or jaded, or lose hope, as we age. But young people have an uneroded idealism that fosters positive change and creative solutions. Much like with today’s climate strike, students and other young people drove the first Earth Day nearly 50 years ago.
Fiery, defiant, and clear-eyed, Thunberg’s words give passionate voice to our youth (and young at heart) who are sick of government and corporate leaders who fail to act on the most existential threat in human history. Her moral indignation resurrects the spirit of previous generations who felt similar outrage, spoke truth to power, engaged in nonviolent protest, and corrected the injustices of their times. Her critiques of our current economic paradigm — one predicated on unsustainable growth, material consumption, and profit for the few at the expense of the many (and the planet) — echo those of our own organization’s activist founders two generations ago that still inform our work today.
Generation Climate Change is a living, breathing reminder of what can be in the future if we act swiftly and effectively — or what may never be again if we don’t. Will these children and grandchildren of ours choke on the air? See their hometowns swallowed by rising seas? Be conscripted into war when heat and drought revert us from our current post-scarcity world to the world of scarcity that previous generations overcame?
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can each make an individual impact through energy efficiency, recycling, and driving and flying less.
We can support companies and elected officials committed to reducing emissions. We can invest our money in fossil fuel free alternatives.
We can convince cities, states and college campuses to stop using fossil fuels to generate power and use 100 percent renewable energy sources.
We can stop mining for coal and drilling for oil and gas we don’t need with renewables on the rise and now cheaper than fossil fuels.
We can make public transportation as clean and safe as possible. Whether it’s a daily commuter or a kindergartener with asthma, no one will have to breathe in dirty fumes once our cars, trucks, and buses are electric.
We can do all this, and, if we do it together, we can solve this problem.
So, I’m very thankful for the infusion of energy and attention that the climate strikers have brought today, and tomorrow I’ll try to build on that momentum and achieve more of the solutions that we already have at hand.
We owe it to Thunberg and other youth concerned about the climate to amplify their voices and ideas, and add our own, which have the benefit of experience. We should use this opportunity to reconnect with the idealism, optimism and determination of our own childhood and re-examine our values and choices today. Most importantly, we should make sure that Generation Climate Change’s efforts are not in vain — that their placards and social media posts become real policies.
If we don’t help now, they may not have the chance to do it themselves. As Thunberg said, “People say we are hopeful that young people are going to save the world. There is simply not enough time for us to grow up and become the ones in charge.”
Jesse Torrence is Environment America’s senior director of Climate Campaigns.
Mark Morgenstein is Environment America’s senior communications manager.
Director of Media Relations, The Public Interest Network
Mark leads The Public Interest Network’s national communications and media relations campaigns. Before joining The Public Interest Network, Mark worked at CNN for nearly 20 years, and taught writing classes for six years through the Turner Professional Development Center. Mark was the recipient of an Emmy Award, two Peabody Awards and a DuPont Award. Mark currently lives near Denver, Colo., with his wife and three children. He's also a music fanatic who's been lucky enough to interview many of his favorite artists.