The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
Last month, a 16-year-old Swedish high schooler with Asperger’s did her best to shame adults who should know better into taking urgent action against climate change. And everyone there essentially patted her on the head and went on with business as usual.
Greta Thunberg wasn’t the only young person to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, but she is the most well-known and the inspiration for an international youth movement focused on saving the earth in the next decade.
Dozens of climate-justice groups have launched across the world – including AZ Youth Climate Strike — since Thunberg began her Fridays for Future school walkouts in August 2018. While some of the marches and protests are peppered with graying heads and Gen-X hipsters, the real urgency is coming from high schoolers like Thunberg. It is to them that this column is addressed.
To every young activist out there: Thank you for channeling your fear, rage and energy into cutting class, stopping traffic, affecting the news cycle and speaking truth to power.
But I’ve got some bad news. The grownups you’re trying to change – the ones who appeared to listen so raptly to your U.N. testimony or welcomed you in their council chambers or congressional offices – they are all counting on one thing: That you will give up. They’re hoping that you’ll eventually get overwhelmed with trying to save the planet and go back to planning prom. They are ever so desperate for you to sit down and shut up.
I’m begging you to do the exact opposite and have a few suggestions on how you can stay the course.
1. Get bolder. Yes, continue to shut down freeways and show up to meetings with major world leaders. But also stage sit-ins at the offices of local, state and national politicians, company CEOs, and anyone else with the power and influence to combat climate change who is slow-walking that change. Call, email and stalk them on social media. Ask them why they don’t love their children and grandchildren enough to take action. Reach out to their children and grandchildren and bring them over to the cause. Then they can ask the hard questions of Gramps over Thanksgiving dinner while you’re writing a letter thanking the handful of politicians who’ve refused campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry.
2. Those of you old enough to vote, do so, supporting climate candidates. Those of you not yet of voting age, campaign for candidates and political parties who put climate action at the top of their to-do list.
3. Educate your parents and grandparents and ask them to vote only for candidates who accept the science on climate change and want to get us back in the Paris Climate Agreement. If they say they can’t vote for that person, ask them what is more important to them than that you being able to live on a habitable earth. It’s an honest question that deserves an honest answer.
4. When relatives inquire as to what you want for your birthday or Christmas, ask them to meet with their political representative and push for climate action.
5. Most importantly, in six to 10 years, most of you will be able to do the one thing that will really matter: Run for political office. Protests can and do illuminate issues and put pressure on politicians. But making law and policy is how things change, and politicians are the ones who do both those things. A person can serve as a mayor, governor or in the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 25 and in the Senate at the age of 30. Start planning and preparing for your first candidacy right now by participating in your student government, attending city council meetings and interning in your state legislature so you get a grasp of how governing works. Chose a college major that will be most beneficial in getting you on a path to politics and minor in something like environmental sciences or geography so you’ll have the information you need in a changing climate landscape.
No matter what you might have heard from naysayers, I’m here to say you are 100% correct that the only issue that matters for the discernible future is saving the planet on which we all live. So, please, don’t sit down and shut up. Keep standing up, get much louder and start planning that run for mayor, governor or Congress. You have my vote already.