By Lila Katch, age 14
“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.” – Greta Thunberg
On March 15, 2019, about 1.4 million students across the world skipped their classes to protest the growing danger of climate change, signaling a new tactic in the political chess game of action against climate change.
While climate protests have been occurring for decades, young people are increasingly taking the lead to organize sustained, regular rallies. Things picked up when, in August 2018, Greta Thunberg started skipping school every Friday to stand outside of the Swedish parliament as a form of protest. She was only 15 years old at the time. Soon thousands of students across the globe joined her, and the movement called FridaysForFuture was born. Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; if she wins, she will be the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Prize. In less than a year, she has become an international icon of climate justice.
Another turning point was when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Congress, introduced the Green New Deal with Senator Ed Markey in February 2019. The plan calls for a complete remodeling of the U.S. economy from a fossil fuel-based system to a “green” one with the construction of wind turbines, solar panels and other examples of renewable or “green” energy. The Green New Deal also proposes a well-paying green job to every worker in need of one.
The idea, like most revolutionary ideas, is extremely polarizing. Critics say the Green New Deal is far too expensive. The conservative think tank the American Action Forum estimated the cost of the plan to be up to $93 trillion. However, this figure has been disputed by economists and Democrats who say that it assumes too many details of the plan which haven’t been worked out yet. Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University, wrote in an email to Politico, “Given that the [Green New Deal] is at this point simply a set of long-term goals, without any specification of how those goals would be achieved, any estimate of cost is itself likely to be exceptionally speculative.”
Moreover, a lot of money is spent on trying to stop moving away from fossil fuels to sustainable green energy. According to a study from 2018 by Robert Brulle from Drexel University, the fossil fuel industry spent $2 billion from 2000 to 2016 preventing climate action.
People in favor of the Green New Deal say, however, that it is a necessary step. Elizabeth Albright, a professor of environmental science and policy at Duke University, told Inverse.com that both the environmental goals of the Green New Deal and its acknowledgment of the need for economic aid are “critical in the face of extreme climatic events and expand beyond previous legislation proposals which have had a more narrow focus on greenhouse gas emissions.”
Research shows that climate inaction will also cost a significant amount of money. A United Nations climate change report released October 2018 estimated the global cost of 2.7 degrees of warming in the Earth’s temperature to be $54 trillion in damage and would rise to $69 trillion if the world continues to warm by 3.6 degrees and beyond.
Young people, however, are determined to push for climate action. One of the biggest groups in America pushing for the Green New Deal is the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization which is most famous for the sit-in in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office in November 2018. They and Representative Ocasio-Cortez occupied Pelosi’s office to demand climate action.
Youth activists argue they’ll be the ones living with the consequences of climate change, so they must act. A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that even as soon 2040 we will see ecological disaster caused by climate change, such as extreme natural disasters and health epidemics. As Thunberg said in a Democracy Now! interview, “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”
Currently, the Green New Deal has 91 co-sponsors in the House and 12 in the Senate, with more politicians being pressured every day to act. As for young people striking, there is no end in sight, with another global student strike planned for May 24. As Thunberg tweeted before the March rally, “Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed. Let’s change history. And let’s never stop for as long as it takes.”
Fossil fuel: A natural fuel formed through the decomposition of ancient organisms that can be burned to produce energy (i.e. coal, gas, etc.).
Renewable or “green” energy: Energy that doesn’t come from sources that can be depleted and/or cause the emissions of greenhouse gases. Examples of green energy include wind, solar and hydro energy.
Greenhouse gas emissions: – When greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, travel to the atmosphere, they trap heat on the Earth’s surface, not allowing enough of the sun’s energy to be reflected back into space. The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the Earth to levels higher than normal.