Young Americans will no longer be silent on climate change

Young Americans will no longer be silent on climate change
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American students will have the opportunity to join their counterparts around the world on March 15 by striking to demand action on climate change.

Greta Thunberg began what has now become a global protest movement when she sat down in front of the Swedish Parliament on Friday, Aug. 202018. Almost every Friday since then, the remarkable 16-year-old has demonstrated with her placard to raise awareness of the threat climate change poses to her and other young people.

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Her lone action has now inspired support from students across the world. On Feb. 15, thousands of pupils across the United Kingdom walked out of their classrooms to call for urgent action to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. 

Inevitably, while Greta and the other student strikers have received strong endorsements from across the world, they have also been attacked for their actions and even subjected to insults and abuse. 

But they have stood firm. When their critics have accused them of using climate change as an excuse for truancy, they have responded clearly and articulately. As 17-year-old Lottie Tellyn wrote in The Independent newspaper:

“Our generation will no longer accept catastrophic changes that are negatively affecting our future. Years of limited action against climate change, years of covered-up information on the climate crisis, and now we are finally saying enough is enough."

Greta Thunberg is just as persuasive and compelling in explaining her case. She has set out her reasons on her Facebook page in admirably straightforward terms: “Yes, the climate crisis is the most complex issue that we have ever faced and it’s going to take everything from our part to ‘stop it’. But the solution is black and white; we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Young people like Lottie and Greta will have to live with the consequences of climate change for longer than older generations. Because the impacts of climate change are increasing over time, due both to rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and the lag in the climate’s response, today’s young people will also be faced with bigger risks in the future than we are experiencing today.

Those risks can only be limited by immediate and urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet young people, who have the biggest stake in the future, are not allowed to vote or participate in the political processes that will ultimately determine if future generations will have their well-being and prosperity harmed by dangerous climate change.

Viewed from outside the United States, American students have a particularly strong and justified cause to promote on March 15 because of President TrumpDonald John TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report MORE’s failure to act in their best interests on climate change. 

Since he entered the White House, President Trump has ignored the advice of experts, including the National Academy of Sciences and the authors of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, who documented the growing impacts of climate change that are already hurting American families and businesses.

Instead, Trump has tried to cast doubt on the integrity of climate researchers and questioned the existence of global warming during short spells of winter weather in some parts of the country.

He has indicated that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement and refused to join other collective pledges on climate change by major countries.

He has also filled his administration with champions of the fossil fuel industry, allowed the censoring of information about climate change on the websites of many federal agencies and attempted to remove any federal policies that limit greenhouse gas emissions. 

And, of course, annual emissions of carbon dioxide from energy-related sources in the United States have started to climb again.

It is perhaps too much to expect President Trump to start listening to young Americans who walk out on strike over climate change. But he may not be able to ignore them for much longer thanks to 21 young people who filed a constitutional climate lawsuit against the federal government in 2015. 

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The young plaintiffs in Juliana v. the United States argue that the government, through its affirmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change, is depriving them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. 

But the federal government has been trying every legal trick in the book to delay the case. On Dec. 26, the Ninth Circuit Court granted the government an appeal, but subsequently decided that it should be fast-tracked, with the opening brief filed earlier this month. 

Earlier this week, Zero Hour, a youth-led climate justice organization, launched a nationwide drive to mobilize thousands of young people to add their names to a Young People's Brief in Support of the Juliana Plaintiffs. 

If this landmark lawsuit succeeds, the Trump administration will find it difficult to carry on ignoring the damage being caused to the prospects of young Americans through a failure to tackle climate change. 

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.