The climate change generation wants to be heard

‘I’m fighting for my future.’

 

This article was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In 2040, Haven Coleman will be 33 years old. Having grown up in Colorado, she may have left the state to attend college or start her career, but wherever she goes will be a stunningly different world from the one she inhabits today. 

The planet will have already warmed past one scary threshold — 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial averages — and will be fast approaching the even more frightening mark of 2 degrees Celsius, long considered a catastrophic marker by the global community. Even at 1.5 degrees, there will likely be tens of millions of climate refugees from regions that have become uninhabitable because of heat, flooding, or extreme weather; fragile coral reefs may be nearly decimated; while recurrent flooding, excessive heat, and a constant risk of wildfires will pose an everyday threat to stability in some of the world’s biggest cities. 

Not quite yet 13 years old, Coleman is painfully aware of what awaits her generation should there be continued government and social inaction in addressing the perils of a warming planet. “I’ve grown up with climate change,” Coleman told me. “I’ve grown up listening and hearing about climate change. I’m fighting for my future.”

She is one of the school-age protesters who will be skipping classes Friday to join in protests in more than 1,600 school strikes across 100 countries. Students are joining in, inspired by the example of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, who has been striking most Fridays since 2018 to demand political leaders’ attention. The hashtag, #FridaysForFuture has caught on in other countries, like Australia where 200 young people demonstrated in November.

Greta Thunberg inspired thousands of students in Hamburg to skip school in protest over the lack of action on climate change.

In the U.S., the movement, which is made up of mostly teenage girls, has expanded from a few lone protesters missing school on some Fridays to a nationwide, all-day Youth Climate Strike.  Coleman teamed up with 16-year-old Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Minnesota Rep. Imar Oman, and 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor of New York City. Their demands are for the U.S. to embrace the principles underlying the Green New Deal, provide better education on climate change, and connect all government decisions to scientific research.

These young people comprise the first generation who bear little responsibility for the 410 parts per million concentration of carbon in the atmosphere but will face most of the consequences from it. They’re coming of age when the window to ward off this nightmare scenario is rapidly shrinking. Many older adults have been warning for decades that “future generations” will suffer for our selfishness and inertia from continued inaction. Now, those so-called future victims are finding their voice to try and shape the agenda.

“The climate change generation is a generation of young people born into a warming world, who will be alive to see which climate model scenario plays out, and who have spent — and will spend — essentially our entire adult lives fighting for a just and stable future,” says Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow, scientist and activist who has organized to persuade Harvard and MIT to divest from fossil fuels. “Many of my younger peers in the climate change generation will literally outlive the climate projections that scientists run through 2100.”

The youngest activists in the U.S. have found new entry points in the debate by joining the Sunrise Movement and demanding a Green New Deal. The Sunrise Movement is mostly comprised of millennial activists, a portion of whom, like Supran, learned the basics of organizing from the fossil fuel divestment movement on college campuses. Many of those 20-something organizers were concerned about climate change already, but found agency through concrete action like divestment.

Whether intuitively or from having witnessed and learned history, the younger activists understand that climate change encompasses not only the environment but also racial discrimination and economic inequality.

Even in the past, the environmental movement has been more expansive than other single-issue concerns, says Georgetown historian Michael Kazin, an expert in the radical left. He explains that in the sixties and seventies, environmentalism began as an anti-pollution movement that grew out of opposition to the Vietnam War and demands for a better quality of life. “What any movement needs to survive is infrastructure,” Kazin notes, “and to find through-lines to other issues people are about.” 

Sunrise is one of the groups that is fast building up that infrastructure and has closely connected the climate fight to racial justice. Rose Strauss from Sunrise is a college freshman, who attended one of the group’s trainings last year and saw the need to recognize its growing number of activists at the high school level. Sunrise does not have hard numbers for its under-20 division, but counts 275 students who are active on their Slack channel. The group, working with a high school-focused climate group called iMatter, has been working to advance Green New Deal resolutions in places like Marin County, California, and Sante Fe, New Mexico. Having a vision, like the Green New Deal, to rally around has drawn new activists to their ranks. 

“I’ve been trying to become active for a long time but there wasn’t a solution addressing the problem on the scale that needs to be addressed,” Strauss says. “Having a tangible solution like the Green New Deal to get behind puts a much more positive spin on it than ‘this is terrible we need to stop it.’ That kind of shift in messaging has got a lot more people involved.”

Climate activists across the generations are counting on these new messengers to bring more salience to their arguments. “Politicians and pundits have talked for decades about ‘our children and grandchildren’ who will face the perils of climate change,” Supran says. “But guess what: They’re here, they’re alive, they’re marching in the streets right now.” 

Rebecca Leber is a reporter in Mother Jones’ D.C. bureau, where she covers environmental politics and policy. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Friends of the San Juans (Friends), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is seeking an experienced, passionate, and charismatic environmental leader to continue its strong community leadership...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.