Young people are angry, and rightly so


Across the globe fires are burning, destroying the Amazon rainforest and other vital wildlife and lands. Glaciers are melting at alarming rates, contributing to the rise of the sea level. Hurricanes, such as Dorian, are devastating communities and accelerating the refugee crisis. Biodiversity is shrinking, as 150-200 species go extinct every day, according to National Geographic. 

We are in the midst of a sixth extinction. Throughout the Earth’s existence, there have been five instances during which it has experienced climate change so catastrophic that over 75 percent of the species were wiped out. These occurrences have been deemed the Big Five. Scientists are saying that the sixth one is going on right now, according to Cosmos Magazine.

At the root of the sixth extinction: humans. We have unintentionally and unknowingly caused these things to happen. Yet, one of the most incredible things about humans is that we have the capacity to step back and understand that — to take responsibility and do what we can to fix it. Therefore, when the president of the United States and other global leaders refuse to take action or even admit guilt, people get angry.

However, anger at inaction isn’t the sole thing advancing the call to the climate movement. The driving component is fear, fear that there won’t be a future for us, that we’ve prevented our children from having one. Fear that we’ve ruined the lives of species who don’t deserve to suffer from our selfishness and willful ignorance. 

You may feel helpless. 

Before hearing climate activist Greta Thunberg speak at George Washington University, I felt helpless. What could I, one 17-year-old girl, do to help combat climate change? Yet when Thunberg walked on stage to accept an award from Amnesty International, an organization that fights human rights abuses, it struck me how young she is. Thunberg is 16 years old, but she has ignited a global climate movement.

“We, who together are the movement Fridays for Future, we are fighting for our lives,” Thunberg said. “But not only that, we’re also fighting for our future children and grandchildren, for future generations, for every single living being on Earth whose biosphere we share, whose biosphere we are stealing, whose biosphere we are ruining. We are fighting for everyone. For you.”

She speaks with incredible certainty for a 16 year-old, a fact which I find both inspiring and depressing. Injustice and inaction have forced her, as it has forced other youth, to take charge. She sacrificed her childhood for the movement; she should be stressing about relationships and grades, but instead she is trying to alter the fate of the world.

We can’t all be Greta Thunbergs, and we don’t need to be. We can reduce our carbon footprint on a smaller scale by, for example, using other means of transportation than driving, altering our diets, recycling and bringing reusable bags grocery shopping. 

The most important thing we as individuals must do is vote. We need to elect people who care about our environment and will try to protect it while in office. If you aren’t 18 yet, you can still join protests, call your representatives and advocate for politicians who understand how crucial this issue is.

At the Amnesty International event, a range of youth climate activists spoke, including Tokata Iron Eyes of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, who is also an advocate for indigenous people’s rights, and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s daughter Ramona Sarsgaard, who is 12 years old.

“People who have been alive much longer than us have not taken necessary action and have left it to us,” Sarsgaard said. “But I can never do enough to quench my fear of what will happen in the future if we didn’t make a difference. A child should not have to have this responsibility. I sometimes feel like I am holding the weight of the world on my shoulders.”

Kumi Naidoo, the Amnesty International Secretary-General, advised adults to follow the lead of youth activists. 

“Young people are often told that they are the leaders of tomorrow,” Naidoo said. “I am so glad that Tokata Iron Eyes, Greta and the millions of Fridays for Future activists ignore this message. If they wait until tomorrow there will be no future for any of us. They have proved they are already leaders and it’s time for every single one of us to follow their lead.” 

If what Naidoo calls for fails to transpire, if the people in power continue to ignore this, we are all doomed.

I understand that is difficult to grasp. I understand it is not fun to think about. But are we really all so cowardly that we refuse to even try? Are we so selfish? Or have we just given up hope?

I know it’s incredibly hard to hold onto hope. Especially after the top carbon dioxide emitters, China and the United States, promised nothing new at the United Nations Climate Summit. Still, I have hope we will soon have a new president, one with a plan to combat climate change. Hope after seeing all of the people, young and old, at the climate march. Hope after reading about the millions people attending marches across the world. We must have hope. Without hope, there will be no future.