Climate Change News

Youth Activists Call for Urgent Climate Action

Greta Thunberg and other youth climate activists came to Washington, D.C., days before a major United Nations conference to draw attention to the need for immediate action to address climate change.

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Covering Climate Now logoYouth from around the world descended on Washington, D.C., this week demanding action on climate change and demanding that Congress and others heed what scientists say about the threat it poses.

“I want you to listen to the scientists, and I want you to unite behind the science,” Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, implored Congress while testifying at an 18 September House hearing jointly conducted by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The hearing was held just days before the upcoming United Nations Youth Climate Summit on 21 September.

“I don’t see a reason to not listen to the science,” said the soft-spoken teenager, who founded Fridays For Future to protest inaction about climate change. “[These are] not political views or my opinions. This is science.”

As part of her testimony, Thunberg submitted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which focuses on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

“We are already seeing the unacceptable consequences of [climate change] today, and it will only get worse the longer we delay action, unless we act now,” she said.

Thunberg said that the way to get more youth involved in the issue is “to just tell them the truth.”

“When I found how [climate change] actually was, that made me furious so that I wanted to do something about it,” she remarked. “As it is now, people in general don’t seem to be very aware of the actual science and how severe this actual crisis is.”

She added, “We need to inform them and start treating this crisis like the existential emergency it is. Then I think people would understand and want to do something about it.”

Generation Green New Deal, Not Generation Z

Others testifying at the hearing included Jamie Margolin, 17, from Seattle, Wash., who founded Zero Hour to focus on climate change. “How do I even begin to convey to you what it feels like to know that within my lifetime, the destruction that we have already seen from the climate crisis will only get worse?” Margolin said. “By 2030, we will have known if we have created the political climate that will have allowed us to salvage life on Earth or if we acted too late. By then, we must be well down the path towards climate recovery, but this must start today.”

Margolin said that people refer to her generation, Generation Z, “as if we are the last generation. But we are not,” she said. “We are instead Generation GND, Generation Green New Deal,” referring to the aspirational congressional resolution that calls for dramatic action to confront climate change.

Benji Backer, 21, the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, testified that he, too, believes that climate change is real and that there is an urgency to act. However, he called for market-based solutions with limited government intervention.

“It’s time to claim our seat at the table,” he said, directing his comments to other conservatives. “There is a reasonable conservative response to climate change that we should embrace.”

Without climate leadership on the left, “this issue would not be receiving the attention it deserves,” Backer said. He also laid out a challenge for liberals: “If you truly want to address climate change, work with conservatives who are ready to fight alongside you on implementing evidence-based policies.”

At the hearing, comments from members of Congress were mixed, though all praised the youth for their involvement and their testimony. “Climate change is real, and the best way to combat it is by reducing not only our nation’s carbon emission but that of the rest of the world,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment. Kinzinger called for energy diversity and market-driven innovations to develop new technologies to help address climate change.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of that committee, said that the youth climate movement “has grabbed the attention of the world” and that Congress needs to act on the urgency of the issue, including enacting into law the Climate Action Now Act, which the House has passed, to encourage the United States to remain a party to the Paris climate accord.

“People say this [young] generation gives us hope. But that’s not quite right, is it?” Castor said. “This generation is giving us a job to do. The job is addressing the climate crisis.”

A Global Focus

Also speaking out about climate change this week were youth from around the world who appeared at a 17 September briefing with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and other members of Congress.

“No generation stands to lose more than the young people who have come to the United States Capitol today. Young people are leading the climate action movement around the world because for them, climate change is a matter of life and death,” said Markey. “The United States bears the historic responsibility of where we find ourselves today. Much of the CO2 [carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere is red, white, and blue.”

Indigenous Amazonians in traditional garb speak at a podium with a translator in a suit.
Artemisa Xakriabá, speaking at center, and other youth climate activists from around the world spoke at a briefing on Capitol Hill. Credit: Randy Showstack

“Right now, the Amazon, home to millions of my relatives, is burning,” said Artemisa Xakriabá, a member of the indigenous Xakriabá people of Brazil’s Cerrado tropical savanna ecoregion. “If it goes on like this, 20 years from now my house will become a desert and my people will be at risk of becoming history.”

“The governments of Brazil and the United States are not helping. They promote hate-based narratives and a development model that attacks nature and indigenous peoples. These governments are trying to put us in extinction. They are part of the problem,” said Xakriabá, who is a representative of indigenous and traditional communities that are part of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities.

She said the countries should base their policies on scientific facts, reject products obtained at the expense of nature’s destruction, comply with international agreements, and guarantee the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

Xakriabá and others also delivered a letter to members of Congress calling for the United States “to lead the community of nations into caring for our common home.”

At the briefing, senators, including Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), thanked the youth for their leadership on the climate issue. “When I hear things like, ‘I don’t believe in climate change,’ I want to say, ‘What do you think this is, a religion?’” she said. “To see [President Donald Trump] unilaterally withdraw from the Paris climate change [accord] means that our country has ceded, in my view, the leadership role that we can play in combating global warming and climate change. In this leadership vacuum, we see young people coming forward to provide the leadership that is lacking.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Youth activists call for urgent climate action, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO133831. Published on 19 September 2019.
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