Hey Elected Leaders: The #Climate Kids Have a Message for You  

By Kathleen Gasperini

Photo by Erin Landy

As legislators in Albany enter the final days of budget negotations – including at least some negotiation on climate change policy – we can all be inspired by young climate change activists.

On March 15th, more than 1.4 million young people in more than 120 countries skipped classes and took to the streets to protest the lack of governmental action when it comes to climate change. The Climate Kids are demanding that politicians treat the climate crisis as a global emergency. Using social media, they’re sprouting hashtags like #YouthClimateStrike, #FridayforFuture, and #SchoolStrike4Climate to launch a viral movement. On certain Fridays, they will strike back at the climate crisis by defying the status quo and skipping school.

Much of the energy for this new youth movement was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old from Sweden. She spoke in December about the need for climate justice at the COP24 Summit in Katowice, Poland. The world saw her again in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. On March 14th, Thunberg was nominated for a Noble Peace Prize for her impact on youth culture, and has become a leading new Gen-Z climate revolutionist.

In Albany, the March 15th #YouthStrike4Climate around the Capital had a distinct purpose, to call attention to the fact that slow action on climate change policies has left their generation with just 11 years to change the trajectory of global warming. Influenced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, they believe that unless global warming can to contained to 1.5ºC, the consequences for the planet and its people will be devastating. Moving too slowly away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy has essentially put their lives at risk, they say. To the Climate Kids, this calls for a disruption of the social order, and since many can’t vote, skipping school and protesting is their choice of action against climate inaction. This is no longer going to be your planet, they say. From now on, this is going to be our planet, they say, and this is your wake-up call! 

The Albany youth organizers clearly outlined their reasons in a 42-point list of what they believe needs to happen fast, ranging from elected officials no longer taking fossil fuel industry donations, to assuring that climate change becomes a science-based nonpartisan issue. The Green New Deal is outlined as a path forward. “These are not the sole solutions, these are just some solutions we approve of. To be effective, these solutions need to be implemented at a large scale by the United States government,” the list concludes.

More #YouthStrikes4Climate days are being organized across New York, the nation and globally, with the largest one predicted for May 4, 2019. Come this September 23rd, when world leaders gather in New York City for the United Nations Climate Summit, you can bet that youth leaders and strikers will be out in droves. Gen-Z is no Gen-X, afterall. We’re talking about an entire generation that has grown up in a recession, and soon, will be voting.

There’s a generational shift happening, and from Gen Z’s point of view, incremental movements in climate change and environmental justice policy just are no longer tolerated. I, for one, can’t wait to see if this perspective prevails in Albany this year. If so, we could end the legislative session with some strong climate-protecting law. And maybe some triumphant youth as well.