Be careful about heaping praise on Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who has become the face of the youth climate movement. Unless, that is, you are prepared to pitch in to fight global warming and climate change – and make measurable progress in short order. Or you are brave enough to face a firey rebuke.
As she told a group of fawning Democratic senators after her testimony in a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill this past Tuesday, “Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it. We don’t want to be invited to these kinds of meetings because, honestly, they don’t lead to anything.”
Patronizing her does not work, either. When told that she and others like her would soon have the opportunity to seek elected office themselves and affect change for the good of mankind and the planet? “We don’t want to become politicians, we don’t want to run for office,” she said. “We want you to unite behind the science. I’m sorry, I know you’re probably trying very hard, and this is not personally to any one of you but generally to everyone. I know you’re trying, but just not hard enough.”
And, so, again, it is the children who will lead, who are so unencumbered by the trappings of a poisoned political system that they do not fear speaking truth to power. Climate change is the existential threat to their lives and livelihoods – to their future. Patience is not in their game plan.
Thunberg’s voice is not a lonely one. There is a gathering chorus here in the U.S. Groups like the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Zero Hour and U.S. Youth Climate Strike are becoming more prominent. Borrowing from the playbook of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, they are trying to force the hand of elected officials through protests and direct action. With President Trump – a climate denier – in the White House, they know their next best shot at flipping the conversation and the political calculus is next year’s election.
Given the history of poor turnout by young people in our nation’s elections, it’s easy to dismiss Sunrise and like-minded climate organizations.
But it is possible, given a glut of issues having a direct impact on the lives of youths – gun control, student loan debt, the cost of a college education, the minimum wage, the wealth gap – that American voters in their 20s and 30s could mobilize in such a way as to have a pretty sizable impact on who will hold the reins of power come 2021.
Remember, on Valentine’s Day last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a shooter – equipped with a semiautomatic rifle – turned a normal school day into a nightmare. In the wake of that tragedy, students formed the #NeverAgain movement, a grassroots effort that inspired one of the largest student protests in history.
While the bloodshed of mass killings has not been arrested, the students have not stopped working for stricter gun regulations, either. They have not stopped advocating for change, they have not stopped urging young people to register to vote and they have not stopped fighting for what they believe in.
And, now, a year and a half later, politicians at federal, state and municipal levels are getting serious about enacting stiffer gun laws.
And just like climate change, gun violence is a common threat to their daily lives. These kids – our kids – know what it is like to go through an active shooter drill, and thousands can say they have survived the real thing. They have attended the funerals – 17 of them in Parkland – of former classmates.
Well, we sense that they aren’t having any of it anymore.
But will they show up?
It would be difficult to discount the 1.2 million people from across the country who descended on D.C. for the March for Our Lives rally – organized by the Parkland students.
And as of this month, Sunrise – the climate change group – counted 290 small, autonomous chapters of activists across the country. In November 2018, there were 11.
The Green New Deal – their vision to solve climate change – has become a defining issue of the current election cycle. Democrats running for president – as has never happened previously – have released detailed plans to drastically cut America’s fossil fuel emissions.
Yes, the kids – our kids – are showing up because in so many ways their parents may have tried to change the narrative, but just not hard enough.