Youth are on the front lines of the climate fight
By Alex Amonette
“The Child’s faith is new, Whole – like His Principle, Wide – like the Sunrise” – Emily Dickinson
One day, as a high school student, I stood in shock in my backyard. On the TV, they had just shown a helicopter with a huge net lifting off the ground. In it were the dead bodies of many Vietnamese people—men, women, and children—who U.S. soldiers had killed. I could not believe the gruesome image of arms and legs sticking through the netting.
It was 1965. I knew there were college students in distant cities protesting the war. In two years, I joined them in our nation’s capitol, peacefully protesting this horrifying war. I remember vividly how I felt that moment in the backyard when I resolved to do something. I believe the actions I took to educate people about that war, to counsel those who did not want to fight it, and peacefully march in Washington, D.C., helped to end it.
This summer, an electrician who did some work on my house said that he served in Vietnam and enlisted to help his country. Many young people, motivated by patriotism, go to war. However, they do not always know the reason for these wars and, sometimes, have been lied to. The electrician and I had a civil conversation about it. He said he wished he had never been involved in it. I can forgive him.
Today, I feel that same gut resolve to move my government to act on climate change. Our government has ignored and sometimes even lied about the threat it poses to all of us and has failed to act to mitigate it. The tragedy is that our nation could transition to alternative energy sources. We’d all be more prosperous, and our environment would be healthier.
One of my greatest allies now is a former retired Lieutenant Colonel who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. He serves as co-leader of the Climate and Security Action Team in Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). Another is a retired Air Force Major General. We’ve been planning how to lobby our representatives in Congress together this November about the market-based Carbon Fee and Dividend policy. We’re all on the same side now, and that’s common to see in CCL, as this video shows:
I cannot bear children being killed by wildfires, swept away in floodwaters, torn from their mothers’ arms in hurricanes, and forced to evacuate their homes. We’re experiencing the impacts of climate change now in our country, and it is way past time for our government to implement a recovery plan that reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and stabilizes the climate system.
In remembering my own youth, I’ve become aware of many young people’s groups working on the climate issue today. For example:
- Schools for Climate Action, an effort led by CCL volunteer Park Guthrie, works with school boards, student councils, PTAs, teachers’ unions, and school support organizations. They’re generating resolutions recognizing climate change as a generational justice issue, asking Congress to support carbon pricing, and expanding school district responses to climate change.
- CCL also has students active in chapters across the country, like Jeremy Clark and Charlie Abrams, who first lobbied their members of Congress when they were in fifth grade. Yes, fifth grade! More students are coming on board every day, thanks to the efforts of CCL’s Higher Education Action Team and its allies.
- Our Climate mobilizes and empowers young people to educate the public and our elected officials about science-based, equitable climate policy solutions that build a livable world.
- Students for Carbon Dividends’ mission says, “We will harness the energy of students and the power of the free market to launch our nation toward concrete climate action.”
- Young people in the Zero Hour Movement, like Jamie and Iris, push the issue forward with marches and lobbying efforts.
- Young people are even taking our government to court. In support of the Juliana v. U.S. case, U.S. District Court Judge Anne Aiken said, “A stable climate system is quite literally the foundation of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”
Here’s the bottom line.
Due in large part to fossil-fuel emissions over the past fifty years, we are already feeling the economic impacts of climate change in the form of larger floods, stronger storms, catastrophic forest fires, etc. Continued emissions increase these costs and add to the cost of removal of atmospheric CO2 (currently estimated in the hundreds of trillions of U.S. dollars) that will eventually be needed to bring the climate system back into a safe zone. It is fundamentally immoral for my generation to burden young people with these costs, not to mention the human suffering that comes with climate change. We can, and must, do better.
We will succeed by working together, people of all ages, to ensure that the world’s economic system reflects the true costs associated with use of fossil fuels. The actions I took in my youth stimulated the collective conscience of my parents’ generation to change the world for the better. It is no different today.
Thank you, all you young people. CCL’s got your back.