Youth are leading on the climate crisis. It's time to join them.
By Daniel Zackin, Intern at the NYC office of The Climate Group
“I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act, I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.”
This quote by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg comes from the end of her 2019 speech to the World Economic Forum at Davos. Speaking with brutally simple phrasing, Thunberg is at the crest of a wave building worldwide among young people who have run out of patience with governments that refuse to deal with the climate crisis. This wave has grown far beyond her weekly solo Friday’s for Future strikes outside the Swedish parliament, to now igniting a trend of global climate strikes, with the first on March 15th that included over a million students.
Thunberg has rapidly been joined by other young activists such as Anna Taylor in the UK, Luisa Neubauer in Germany, Kyra Gantois, Anuna De Wever and Adélaïde Charlier in Belgium, Holly Gillibrand in Scotland, and Alexandria Villaseñor in the USA. These young people, working with others around the world, organized marches reaching over 2,000 cities in 123 countries. The movement has started to wake up the public to the climate emergency, and the voices of young people have been so impactful, youth climate strikers have been declared as the greatest threat to the petroleum industry.
Activists from many different organizations have rallied together under the Friday’s For Future banner to give speeches, lobby politicians and work together to build a global movement that has inspired others around the world. That inspiration has extended far beyond the European and American protests that have been covered in most news outlets recently. In Seoul, Delhi, Cape Town, Taipei, and elsewhere, thousands showed up to demand climate action from their government
The impact of the protests themselves was huge; the President of the European Commission declared he would devote a fourth of the EU budget to climate mitigation and more countries were pushed by the larger public mobilization towards declaring a climate emergency.
Perhaps most importantly the issues of the climate crisis, the need for climate justice, and the urgency of acting were pushed into mainstream news and conversations (5 US newspapers published 641 articles in March on the climate crisis, the second-highest number of all time).
Beyond the protests, youth have stepped up worldwide to save the future they see as imperilled by the actions of older generations. These activists have come from nations like Kenya and Bangladesh where activism and journalism that is critical of their governments have been severely repressed (Bangladesh was rated 1/4 for freedom of the press by Freedom House). Despite the risk, 350.org campaign organizer Tonny Nowshin in Bangladesh worked with local environmental groups to organize a historic 400km march to save the UNESCO world heritage site and largest mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarban mangrove forest, from a coal plant being built upstream. The fight against the Rampal Coal Plant is ongoing, but Tonny’s work has connected her with activists like Rukiya Khamis Ahmed, living working thousands of miles away on a similar project with DeCOALonize Kenya to stop the construction of another coal plant. As of July 11th, their activism helped pause construction on the project. Global connections like Tonny and Rukiya’s have allowed activists to support each other from thousands of miles away, emboldening young people to take action like never before.
For once, the positive feedback loops have been on the side of the environmentalists, not the worsening state of our planet. Activism has inspired further activism, enabling rapid growth worldwide, and has led us to the upcoming global strike on September 20th. This will be followed by The Climate Group’s Climate Week NYC, giving these youth a chance to go directly from protesting to discussing solutions.
This incredible activism is indicative of the larger sentiment among youth today: the older generation has failed us, and it is time to take change into our own hands. If they won’t declare a climate emergency, we will protest till they do. If they won’t start acting, we will mobilize on an unprecedented scale and act ourselves. For the young activists organizing on every continent, this is a matter of life or death. This is our future. Because our house is, in fact, on fire.
Photographs by Mika Baumeister