Point: Listen to the kids, the world is in danger

Young voices are the most impactful against climate change


Photo by European Parliament

By Ana Pietrewicz, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

It feels like the whole world has its eyes on Greta Thunberg.

Millions watched as the 16-year-old Swedish activist addressed the United Nations at the 2019 climate action summit on Sept. 23. Thunberg’s four and a half minute speech – just 495 words long – called out members of the UN for ignoring the science of climate change, as well their inaction regarding the climate crisis.

Thunberg’s powerful words attracted a lot of attention: Donald Trump himself sent out a Tweet about her, calling her “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” Though Trump’s words about the teenager may have been sardonic, Thunberg was being talked about and her message of change was being spread.

In Europe, children often skip school on Fridays in order to protest outside their local government buildings. This movement, referred to as “Fridays for Future”, was largely inspired by Thunberg’s protests outside the Swedish parliament beginning in August 2018. Since then, the number of children skipping school in order to protest climate change has grown exponentially.

The wave of climate strikes across the globe from Sep. 20 to Sep. 27 drew an estimated six million people – and was also inspired by Thunberg’s protests. It is undeniable that she is the most recognizable face of the climate movement, but Thunberg is not the only young person working for global climate reform – there is a youth movement for change.

Helena Gualinga is a 17-year-old from Ecuador who says she’s been fighting for the climate “[her] entire life.” Gualinga works to combat big oil companies looking to profit off of indigenous lands in the Amazon and wants to be a voice for her people. Lilly Platt, an 11-year-old from the Netherlands, started a plastic litter pickup campaign which she estimates has helped to clean up 25,000 pieces of litter. Jamie Margolin, a 17-year-old from Seattle, stood up to Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana when he suggested that the U.S. should not focus on the climate crisis since countries like China are not taking steps to decrease their emissions. Margolin, alongside Nadia Nazar, 17, also founded the Zero Hour movement, which aims to make youth voices heard in Congress.

These teenagers are just a few of the many attempting to preserve the future of the planet — Sunrise Movement is a youth-led climate action group which operates in more than 250 cities nationwide. Extinction Rebellion is another international movement with thousands of climate activists demanding action from politicians around the globe. The activists at the front of these global movements are working to get legislation passed in order to prevent more irreversible damage to the planet.There has been much criticism of these teenage activists — from everyday social media users to Fox News pundits to the president, it seems that people have a lot to say about the climate action movement. Like it or not, these young activists are the voice for change, and they are the best vehicle for making change happen. After all, these children are the people who have to inherit the climate crisis.

Perhaps the energy used to criticize the youth working for a cleaner planet and future should be directed toward creating long-term solutions to combat climate change. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessed that unless significant changes are made to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the planet will have warmed by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit – meaning sea levels will rise, natural disasters will continue to increase and ecosystems will begin to collapse.

The reason youth activists seem like alarmists is because they are alarmed – for good reason. As science has shown, there is a climate emergency. If lawmakers won’t listen to scientists, hopefully they will listen to the children fighting for their futures.

Ana Pietrewicz is an Assistant Op/Ed editor and can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @anapietrewicz.