Our young are terrified by climate change; Trump doesn’t care
I often ask people to describe how they feel about their future given the specter of climate change, using just one word. The words I hear are painful — “fearful,” “concerned,” “terrified,” “frightened,” “hopeless” and — the most painful — “black”, from a 20-something. The words I hear are not unusual — over half of U.S. teens feel afraid or angry. And I have also heard apathy — no one cares. Most of those I ask are college students with their life ahead. Ask someone younger for their one word. Start with your children or grandchildren. Their word may frighten you.
The evidence to justify their words is all around us. The inferno in the west, increasing extreme weather, the now unstoppable melting of the Greenland ice mass, and Antarctica melting six times faster than in 1990. And the lower half of the U.S. becoming far less suitable to live in and grow food over the next 50 years. The science is solid, the evidence is blatantly obvious unless you are blinded by an unwillingness to see — to accept the truth.
The Trump administration is utterly failing our young — our daughters, our sons, our grandchildren. Trump and his Republican allies don’t even recognize climate change as something critically important to their future. Shamefully, on Nov. 4 the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. And how does a young person react to the president of the United States saying “I don’t think science knows” when challenged about his views of the cause of the fires in California? Not exactly words of hope for our youth.
Ignoring the science now helps ensure that today’s youth will spend their time maturing and growing old in an irreversible world.
A survey conducted last month indicates that over 70 percent of adults in the U.S. think global warming is happening and that it will harm future generations. Over three-quarters are interested in news stories that describe how presidential candidates plan to respond to this challenge. It’s going to be bad enough for adults, but what if your entire life lies ahead?
But youth are taking their own action and are fighting for their lives. More are joining the battle including young Evangelicals. Millennial and Gen Z Republicans are twice as likely to say that the government is not doing enough to reduce the effects of climate change than their Republican elders. The Sunrise Movement continues to grow, and undergraduates at Duke University have created a website to help all of us know what to do about climate change. Greta Thunberg, who’s 17 and weighs in at 105 pounds, just rallied youth globally — reminding politicians that the climate crisis was more serious than ever.
The next generation needs our help; President Trump is not going to do it.
If you are an educator and in front of your real or virtual class, standing at the pulpit, running for office, a parent, a grandparent, seek that one word. For the sake of those younger than you, it’s now your turn. Even if you don’t believe in climate change or have your doubts, ask that question of someone much younger than you. See what happens.
My own daughter’s word was — “hopeless” — given the current administration in Washington. Make your question the start of a conversation, since we don’t talk enough about climate change. Will you be able to say that you are doing your part to protect their future?
Listen to the one word. They need our support — give them hope. Empower them. And don’t wait until after Nov. 3.
Mike Hoffmann is professor emeritus in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and a faculty fellow with the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. His forthcoming book, “Our changing menu: Climate change and the foods we love and need,” will be available early in 2021. See also his TEDx Talk, “Climate Change: It’s time to raise our voices.”