Kids These Days!

Kids These Days!

I have a straightforward message when I speak to young audiences: If you aren’t pissed off, you aren’t paying attention. I want young people to understand that their future is being damaged, and they should speak of their fear and their fury.

The most exciting thing I’ve seen recently, even superceding the Green New Deal, is that high schoolers all over the world are finding their voices. These voices have the moral legitimacy and scientific credibility to create enormous political power.

In Australia, School Strike 4 Climate Action is a coalition of high school students calling for a national school walkout on March 15, and students in Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK are protesting lack of government action. Some of the largest protests have been in Belgium, where a viral video by Anuna De Wever and her friend kicked off protests . Last month in Brussels, 35,000 high school students marched in the streets, and then forced the resignation of an environment minister who tried to cast doubt on the authenticity of their protest.

That’s a lesson in leadership for for all of us!

One inspiration for this activism is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who began leaving school on Fridays to protest in front of the Swedish parliament. Her power and effectiveness, both as an individual and as a representative of her generation, is reflected in invitations for her to address the recent Conference of the Parties in Poland and the World Economic Forum in Davos. In addition, the scorn of politicians (including the Prime Minister of Australia) shows that these young people are getting the attention of political leaders.

This action is being driven predominantly by teenage girls, and is growing in the U.S. (as exemplified by 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor). Young people are speaking out through organizations like iMatter and Zero Hour, preparing to join the strike on March 15 and proposing public policy through projects such as the Climate Inheritance Resolution. Half of young Republicans surveyed want the government to do more about climate change.

Young Americans are suing the federal government, claiming a violation of the public trust doctrine by asserting that the government is a trustee of the atmosphere and must protect it for future generations just as it must protect water, land or fisheries. Young people are suing state governments as well (here’s an op-ed from a sixteen-year-old plaintiff suing the State of Washington), and they have have now petitioned the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to halt fossil fuel development on U.S. soil and in territorial waters. And their sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office (with the Sunrise Movement) has catapulted the Green New Deal into the political conversation and led to its endorsement (in concept) by every Democratic presidential candidate.

Ms. Thunberg is asking questions that should resonate with young people all over the world: “Why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more? What’s the point of learning facts in school when those same facts mean nothing to politicians and society?” (Her TED Talk is worth watching.) The more young people think about these questions, the more angry and demanding they will become, and adults will have to address their concerns.

In the U.S., young people can also see the impact of their contemporaries on the nation’s debate about gun policy. The March for Our Lives was one of the largest youth-led movements in American history, and it impacted our nation’s political landscape. The House of Representatives is expected to pass a gun control bill in this term (the first in over a decade), in part because nearly 80 percent of the 62 freshman Democrats elected in the midterms ran on common sense gun regulations. Young Americans today are following the example of young people who influenced in the Civil Rights Movement through actions such as the Birmingham Children’s Crusade.

“I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic,” Ms. Thunberg told the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.” If you don’t know how to respond to such statements from teenagers, I encourage you to think about it, because you are going to hear from the young people in your life.

They’re paying attention, and their anger is building.