Climate: Change we can believe in

Climate: Change we can believe in
© Greg Nash

When it comes to climate change, the difference between acting now and acting later is the only choice we face. Yet, an entire political party in the United States has chosen to pretend that a third option exists to wait on the sidelines as storms get stronger, droughts get longer and millions of lives are displaced and cut short. As hurricanes strengthen and the fury of wildfires grows, Republicans double down on disastrous policies, such as Trump’s rollback of fuel-economy standards for vehiclesoil drilling on public lands and the repeal of the Clean Water Rule

These decisions put us on a track toward climate calamity, a future that young people across the world resoundingly reject. Whereas past calls for action were often ignored, an entire generation of climate activists is now reaching voting age, threatening to reshape the economy at the ballot box unless meaningful climate action is taken.

In Congress and at the United Nations, the adults heard the exasperated cries of scientific truth from a 16-year-old, as Greta Thunberg reaffirmed the scientific consensus that our planet only has a 50 percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees of warming. Greta stated with force that such odds are unacceptable, and youth have embraced her standard, taking to the streets to call for climate action. 

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While the world has known the facts of climate change for more than 30 years, only now is the sense of urgency it demands becoming mainstream, pushed to the frontlines by a younger generation that has the visceral understanding that it will soon be too late. During last week’s protests, young people held the megaphones, and crowds swelled as students left their classrooms to make their voices heard during the climate strike. As the scientific community has sounded the climate alarm for decades, giving rise to short bursts of action, a rebirth of youth activism not seen since Vietnam now seems possible. 

The call for climate action is resounding around the globe, waking people up to a reality in which we recognize that our future rests on the decisions we make today. Thunberg recently led 4 million people in a strike, filling town squares and main thoroughfares all over the world to demand that more be done to curb emissions in the face of climate catastrophe. These protests continue weekly as people demonstrate the commitment that can translate into sustained political power.  

“Young people are bringing moral clarity to a conversation that is too often muddled by political interests and fossil fuel industry propaganda,” said Page Atcheson, executive director for Our Climate. “It is time for elected leaders to listen to their young constituents, and put us on a path that averts climate catastrophe before it is too late.”  

Already, in the wake of federal inaction, states are taking the lead, and young people are playing critical roles in driving the change. In New York, students worked closely with a diverse coalition comprised of frontline communities, labor, and others, to pass one of the world’s most ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction standards. In Massachusetts, young people are advancing bold climate policy proposals to make it the first state in the country to implement a fee on carbon pollution. Even in predominantly red states, such as Wisconsin, the Democratic governor, galvanized by youth-led movements, recently committed to making the state carbon neutral by 2050.  

This generation is determined to achieve a livable world for generations to come. The energy of this strike, and the many more strikes to come, is bringing the urgency of the moment to the doorstep of our leaders. Thunberg’s forceful call to our leaders, setting a standard for future action, is central to the mission of achieving policy that is in line with emission reduction targets.

The turning point of this movement will be defined by our ability to convert protest energy into long-term political change, making the inadequate action of the last decades a brief chapter in what must be the success story of our generation. 

Jake Kornack is the vice president of the board of directors for Our Climate.