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Young Activists Driving Climate Change Debate

The protest began with a teenager, pushed to action because of deepening concern for the burgeoning climate crisis and the lack of urgency from those tasked with stemming or reversing the impending ecological disaster.

So 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, walked out of school and staged her protest in front of the Riksdagen, the Swedish parliament, every Friday beginning in August. And when opportunities arose, such as television interviews, a TED Talk that has drawn almost 1.5 million views, and remarks she made at the United Nations, Greta ignited a wave of protests around the world from Nairobi to Taipei to Brazil, London, Tokyo and D.C.

On Friday, more than 1.5 million students from 2,083 cities in 125 countries on every continent also went on strike to bring attention to the issue.

“These young people have never experienced a world untouched by climate change — yet they are the ones who will bear the brunt of its impacts,” Nadia Nazar, one of the organizers of the strike in Washington, D.C., told National Geographic. “We’re the first generation that’s being significantly affected by climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it,” she said.

Isra Hirsi, 16, one of a trio of organizers of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, told a National Geographic reporter not everyone was able to leave school or protest in places where they would get attention. But that didn’t mean they didn’t care about climate change, or want to do something about it.

Isra, the daughter of freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and other young organizers sought to organize a day that brought young people around the U.S. together in a very visible, more cohesive way.

“It’s great if you can go strike every week,” she said, “but it’s also a privilege to be able to do that. And there are so many people who care about this issue who can’t leave school every week or even for this one strike on Friday and we want everyone to have their voice heard.”

Greta spoke on Facebook about the power of numbers.

“The favorite argument here in Sweden (and everywhere else…) is that it doesn’t matter what we do because we are all too small to make a difference. Friday’s manifestation was the biggest day of global climate action ever, according to 350.org,” Greta wrote in a recent Facebook post. “It happened because a few schoolchildren from small countries like Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland decided not to go to school because nothing was being done about the climate crisis. We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference.”

“People keep asking me “what is the solution to the climate crisis.” And how do we “fix this problem”. They expect me to know the answer. That is beyond absurd as there are no “solutions” within our current systems. No one “knows” exactly what to do. That’s the whole point. We can’t just lower or heighten some taxes or invest in some “green” funds and go on like before.”

Greta said there are “many, many things that are very good and necessary, and improves the situation, such as solar and wind power, circular economy, veganism, sustainable farming and so on.”

“But even those are just parts of a greater picture. We can no longer only focus on individual and separate issues like electrical cars, nuclear power, meat, aviation, biofuels, etc, etc,” she added. “We urgently need a holistic view to address the full sustainability crisis and the ongoing ecological disaster.”

Greta said that’s why she keeps saying “that we need to start treating the crisis as the crisis it is.”

“Because only then — and only guided by the best available science (as is clearly stated throughout the Paris Agreement) can we together start creating the global way forward,” she explained. “But that can never happen as long as we allow the “yeah-but-what-about-nuclear-power-then-debate” to go on and on and on. This is wasting our time. This is climate delayer-ism. We need to keep a great number of thoughts in our head at same time and yet move forward with the changes at unprecedented speed.”

Young global climate activists have drawn up a list of demands, including leaving fossil fuels in the ground; advancing real solutions that are “just, feasible, and essential,” rejecting false solutions that are displacing real, people-first solutions to the climate crisis, and developed countries acknowledging and honoring their fair shares for largely fueling this crisis.

The young activists have allies in legislators such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose New Green Deal proposal is gaining a good deal of support.

Yet, a recent story in Vox looking at concerns Millennials and other young people have about whether to have children, details what we’re up against. Climate scientists and other experts say a child born today will be living on a planet that’s likely to be dramatically warmer by the end of the century. The earth has already experienced 1 degree Celsius of average warming since pre-industrial times, and that is currently on track to reach as much as 4 degrees by 2100.

One degree of warming has already delivered rising sea levels, deadly heat waves, wetter, more devastating hurricanes, droughts, increasingly expensive natural disasters, larger wildfires, and an uptick in various illnesses. All impacts and consequences that are only going to compound, which is why young people are so angry at adults for failing to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, for abandoning them and essentially stealing their futures.

“Some people seem so desperate to go on with the comforts and luxuries of their everyday life that they tell others to not have any children,” wrote Greta, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last week. “As children, speaking for our little sisters and brothers, we don’t find that very encouraging. It is not us or future generations who have created this. And yet — once again — you blame us.

“If not even the scientists, politicians, media and the UN currently can speak up on what exactly needs to be done to ‘solve’ the climate crisis (in other words, dramatically lowering our emissions starting today), then how could we, some schoolchildren, know?” she wrote. “How can you leave that burden to us? Once you have done your homework, you realize that we need new politics. We need a new economics, where everything is based on our rapidly declining and extremely limited carbon budget.”

But that is not enough, Greta argued.

“We need a whole new way of thinking,” she said. “The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. To get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries, focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species.”

“We are just passing on the words of the science,” Greta wrote. “Our only demand is that you start listening to it. And then start acting. So please stop asking your children for the answers to your own mess.”

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