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The youth climate response – when impatience is a virtue

It is hard not to notice the upwelling of young people leading the way in the current climate movement. As a youth leadership program, this is an exciting time to listen and be inspired! By now most have heard Swedish 16-year old Greta Thunberg, “I don’t want your hope,…I want you to act.” Greta has inspired Fridays for Our Future, and School Strike 4 Climate which has sparked school walkouts around Europe, Australia, Great Britain and here in the U.S. Tens of thousands of students have already participated in these events.

There are also the twenty-one young plaintiffs in Juliana v. the United States suing the federal government for its inaction on climate change.  Another influential group is the youth activists at the Sunrise Movement, demanding a Green New Deal. Their recent visit with Diane Feinstein went viral as the Senator is seen defensively chiding young activists asking her to support the resolution, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing.”

Is that why the hottest years on record have all occurred in the last decade – because we know what we are doing? To those who wonder how we can afford policy around the Green New Deal, it is important to note we already spend an average of $240 billion a year in economic losses from weather events influenced by climate change and health damages due to air pollution caused by fossil fuel energy production. The cost of doing nothing is accruing an unconscionably hefty price tag.

The clarity with which young people are understanding this crisis and taking action is a powerful tonic to the paralysis and timid steps of the past.  How would you feel if you were born into a world where a crisis has been evident, for so long, with the solutions right there ready to be deployed, and yet, the world stumbles to set meaningful targets. Scientists wrote in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report detailing the urgency of taking bold action within this decade, and yet we live in a country where our President tragically confuses weather for climate.

These young activists understand the basic arithmetic: when we use fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas for energy, we release excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it builds up acting like a heat-trapping blanket. The more fossil fuels we burn for energy, the more that blanket thickens, and the more our planet warms. This warming disrupts ecosystems on land and at sea which is evident with our fierce storms, relentless fire seasons, and epic heat waves.

As the Sunrise Movement group camped outside Mitch McConnell’s office in Kentucky, demanding to talk to their representative,  a 17-year-old Louisville high school student pleads, “We demand he look us in the eyes and tell us that the $1.9 million that he gets from fossil fuel industries is more important than my generation’s future.” The time has come to for us to ask: which do we care about more, fossil fuel interests or a stable climate?

These are the history-making days. Will we be  the ones who rolled our eyes at these young people demanding a sensible response? Or the ones that said yes, we will transition and we are here to support you any way we can.

We know what to do. The solutions are ready to go, and they will make our lives better.

As Greta plainly states, “The main solution, however, is so simple even a child can understand. We have to stop the emissions of greenhouse gasses.” Yes, Greta, Yes, we do.

Here at ECO2school, we are blessed to work with our inspiring Youth Advisory Board (YAB)!  These local leaders meet monthly to share a meal, deepen their skills, plan events- like this last November’s Green Teen, and feel the power of their shared values in this climate of youth action. In April the group will be partnering with 350.org and the Santa Rosa Junior College to host a Climate Action Night. Locally and globally the youth are leading the way!