Young people want climate action — Congress should listen

Young people want climate action — Congress should listen
© Getty Images

There are no shortages of headlines highlighting that young people care about climate. Take it from the plethora of youth-led climate groups: The Sunrise Movement, Zero Hour, Fridays for Future and my organization, The American Conservation Coalition. Polls and reports from Yale, The Washington Post and VOX, to name a few, indicate the same. When surveyed, a staggering 41 percent of young people cited global warming as the most important issue facing our world; pollution is not far behind at 36 percent.

Pew Research Center findings show that climate change is a growing concern on both sides of the aisle. The numbers don’t lie. Regardless of party affiliation, young people, like me, believe in climate science and want to live in a cleaner future. After all, it is our generation that will face the worst effects of climate change. 

And so as the nation begins to recover from COVID-19, young people have one clear request: rebuild sustainably. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Rebuilding sustainably means prioritizing well-vetted legislation that not only creates jobs and stimulates our devastated economy, but also contributes to emission-reductions and responsible stewardship. For example, addressing the National Parks Service maintenance backlog is necessary to prevent long-term damage to our beloved public lands and would create thousands of jobs.

In May, more than 500 of our activists wrote to their legislators with this request. For a demographic that is often chided for not participating in the democratic process, the youth mobilization around climate change should be taken all the more seriously. Sure, young people don't vote in droves. But why would we when we are consistently overlooked by candidates, elected officials and both major political parties? Can you blame a generation for being uninspired by a message of “do your time,” while our concerns are left behind?

Young people today have abysmal job prospects, politicians who fail us and party establishments that don’t represent us. Time and time again we watch our leaders use the issues that matter to us for political posturing. Time and time again we see fundraising emails about the importance of our concerns, but no legislation proposed and much less passed. 

Earlier this month, protesters took to the streets demanding action on another issue: racial inequality. After the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, activists in major cities and small towns alike demanded equal treatment under the law. Not only that, but they called for environmental justice to demonstrate how inextricably linked these issues are. Young people, no matter their ideology or even the issue at hand, are more determined than ever to have their voices heard.

Not only do young people feel disenfranchised by our legal and political systems, but many of us are now entering one of the worst job markets in the history of our nation. Investing in a clean future means investing in next-generation job creation, long term economic growth and emissions reductions. Young people don't just want sustainable stimulus relief — we need it.

ADVERTISEMENT

Young Americans care deeply for our natural environment. We want a clean future in which we can work and raise families without worrying about what will be left for our children. We want jobs that are good for our planet and politicians that prioritize issues that are near and dear to us. 

The good news is that Congress now has an opportunity to engage and inspire. As we allocate funds to COVID-19 recovery, investing in sustainability is the right thing to do for the environment, for the economy and for a brighter future. Most importantly, it may just restore some good faith for young people skeptical of our political system. 

Danielle Butcher is the executive vice president and chief operating officer at the American Conservation Coalition. Follow her on Twitter @DaniSButcher.