In late 2018 the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report of their latest findings. The report stressed that the global community must take immediate, far-ranging action if there is to be any chance of averting catastrophe. While the impacts of global heating are already being seen, the report stresses that things will get substantially worse if no action is taken. Despite the dire warnings, the global community has been loath to implement changes, with only a few companies leading the charge by insisting on eco-friendly production standards. Luckily, for the 7.5 billion of us living on this great blue rock, young activists are not waiting for those in charge to save us.
The immortal Whitney Houston once sang, “I believe the children are our future.” The up-and-coming Gen Z is taking that to heart. As these young folks age into college—and, more importantly—the voting booths, they are taking the reins of climate change activism. Below we’re profiling three Gen Z voices that are central in the discussion about the fate of our planet and our species.
Greta is a 15 year old Swedish student who first began making waves in August of 2018 when she took up a lonely sentinel position on the front steps of Swedish parliament. With a hand-painted banner that read “School Strike for Climate,” Greta intended to stay parked at the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm until the September 9 elections. Previous climate change education and record heat waves and wildfires that plagued Sweden in 2018 drove Greta into action.
By August 21, more students and parents had started to join Greta on the steps of parliament and her strike began to draw media attention. From there she began a series of speaking engagements. Including a TEDxStockholm speech, to her now famous drag of global leaders at the 2018 U.N. Convention on Climate Change to the World Economic Panel. Within six months Greta had become a household name, demanding in her straightforward manner that the world's leaders and wealthiest members take immediate action to secure a viable future for humanity on this planet.
Juliana vs United States
The case brought against the United States by plaintiff Juliana argues that the United States government has known for decades that CO2 emissions were causing dramatic climate change. And that, despite this knowledge, the government has been complicit in allowing CO2 levels to climb dangerously high, thus infringing on the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property owed to the youngest generation. The case also argues that the financial backing by fossil fuel companies in high-level elections proves that members of the US Government were subsidized by the fossil fuel industry.
This conflict of interest between protecting the rights of citizens and protecting personal interests is the central issue of the suit. This president-setting case has seen the defendant, the US Government, arguing to have the case thrown out on numerous occasions. The most recent appeals for dismissal have come from the Trump administration and has been repeatedly denied by judges. As of 2019 the case is still awaiting trial.
Beyond the implications for the United States, the Juliana case has spurned youth in other countries to take similar action. To date, similar cases have been brought against the governments of Columbia, Belgium, and Norway. All of these cases make similar arguments that government malfeasance is directly harming the youngest and future generations and that immediate legal actions need to be taken to ensure a better tomorrow.
The Sunrise Movement
Started in 2017, the Sunrise Movement is a national organization made up of “ordinary youth” who seek to affect climate change legislation through government action; electing officials under the Green New Deal banner, and swaying public opinion. Where as some environmentalists have sought to position themselves in opposition to the government status quo, the Sunrise Movement is looking to play ball with elected officials. And, in the event that playing ball doesn’t work, elect new representatives.
These activists aren’t afraid to stand up to politicians. Earlier this year, students from Kentucky marched in front of Mitch McConnell’s office and demanded an explanation for the $1.9 million in donations he’s received from oil and gas companies. This visit to McConnell’s office was just the most recent rally in which Sunrise Movement members took bold steps to be seen by representatives in Washington DC and local officials across the country. The Sunrise Movement’s youth-focused direct action agenda is making legislators stand up and take notice—at least those who are looking for the activists vote.
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