Counterpoint: Young people shouldn’t have to lead climate change movements

The burden of climate change should not be on young people

Photo+by+Lynus+Erickson

Photo by Lynus Erickson

By Brigid Hern, Collegian Contributor

Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, Mari Copeny, Xiye Bastida. All of these young people, each 11 to 17 years old, are who I and many others would consider to be the most prominent climate change activists whose voices have incited backlash, criticism and the beginnings of change. The characteristics these young people have displayed are extraordinary and worthy of praise and appreciation, but I believe  juvenile climate activism speaks to more than just the courage and character of these individuals. In fact, I believe what we’re experiencing is a form of crisis.

It is absolutely ridiculous that the face of such a major issue is a 16-year-old girl. Greta Thunberg has had to fill the shoes of adults who have failed. A teenager seemingly has the weight of the future of the world on her shoulders because amongst all adults, no one was capable of taking up the role of fighting to ensure a future on this earth. Thunberg echoed this in her speech to the United Nations in September, saying, “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here, I should be back in school.” What Thunberg preaches is not merely a quip into the faces of politicians — it speaks to us as well.

Where are the adults fighting for this? Over 200 million people in the US are over the age of 25 and, apart from a few notable lawmakers, few have stepped forward as influential, involved or passionate enough to spearhead this movement that will affect us all. The ones who do step forward, such as Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are heavily ignored or dismissed as extremists. The voices of those with experience and power is not enough for the modern political climate. In order to be heard, shockingly, young people must take a stand in an attempt to save the world from the problems created by those before them. We have driven these teenagers, with our inaction, our dismissal and our lack of outrage to do something they should not have to do.

This is not to say that Thunberg should step down from the spotlight, or that people who are under the age of 18 shouldn’t be politically involved. Her passion and the passion of the rest of these notable climate change activists is completely understandable — it is their future. They should be active for causes they care about, but seeing a 16-year-old on stage in front of the UN expressing her outrage in such a palpable, eloquent way should be a wake-up call to the rest of us that we are not doing enough. Young people should not be responsible for this. They should be in school receiving the same opportunities and education as others their age who don’t make major life sacrifices or historically significant speeches.

This crisis does not occur just in climate activism. Cameron Kasky, a then-17-year-old survivor of the Parkland school shootings, helped organize the March for Our Lives demonstrations, which was created as an opportunity for students to protest for gun law reform. With school shootings becoming deadlier and more common, students were fed up with the lack of change and the endangerment they felt because adults failed to advocate for gun reform. On their website, organizers cry for action stating, “We cannot allow the normalization of gun violence to continue. We must create a safe and compassionate nation for all of us.” Adults have turned to these students, praised them, supported them and shared their stories countless times on Facebook, but have failed in taking successful, impactful action on behalf of the causes.

These young people, so young that they are unable to vote or buy cigarettes, should not be the only ones fighting for the ability to feel and be safe in schools. Adults need to see these massive political movements by young people not as political action in the name of passion, but as cries for help out of desperation. Grown people have repeatedly prioritized problems that do not impact themselves or their futures. Young people have been forced into a role of advocacy, and it’s pathetic that adults look at this and applaud these students as inspirational instead of offering help or taking these issues as they should be taken: with seriousness and timeliness.

This should be a red flag to see young people at the forefront of movements that want nothing more than to know that they have a future guaranteed for them on this earth. It’s time the rest of us step up and take responsibility for our part in solving this issue.

In Greta Thunberg’s words, “You [adults] are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.”

Brigid Hern can be reached at [email protected]