Older generations must support youth climate action

Students holding signs that read "We support the Green New Deal" and "Green is Clean" and surrounded by trees
Emily Bi/Staff

Many people believe Generation Z is characterized by traits such as entitlement and laziness, but this could not be further from the truth in regard to climate change action.

Just a year ago, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg protested outside Sweden’s Parliament House, demanding stronger government action on climate change under the Paris climate accord. This year, Thunberg, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, has inspired a wave of youth activism. She even inspired the #FridaysForFuture movement in which schoolchildren strike against climate change.

In the United States, 13-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor went on strike outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and 12-year-old Haven Coleman stood outside the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver. This developed into one of the largest environmental protests in history in which 1.4 million youth in 123 countries skipped school March 15 to encourage serious and comprehensive climate policy.

Our generation has been at the forefront of demanding action and accountability, and it is time for older generations to prioritize the environment as well.

Generation Z’s commitment to combating climate change can be summarized by a viral video from Feb. 22 that shows Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s exchange with a group of schoolchildren after her refusal to to support the Green New Deal. The students are part of the Sunrise Movement, a group of young activists who are confronting environmental destruction through their support of the Green New Deal.

Feinstein lectures the student leaders on their lack of competency but avoids acknowledging how climate change has and will continue to affect the collective health of Generation Z. Ironically, it is the lack of action by older generations that has allowed climate change to progress this far, and yet Generation Z is deemed selfish, impractical and narrow-minded.

The Green New Deal, authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, addresses exactly what older generations have too long ignored. This progressive, economywide proposal aims to make the United States a global leader in reducing carbon emissions. Although the legislation is evolving in response to the Senate’s recent downvote, the overall goal is the same: invest in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The hope behind the legislation is that by addressing nonrenewable emissions and other environmental challenges, the proposal will also address social justice issues such as racial disparities and environmental racism.

The Green New Deal is guided by two reports — one from the United Nations and another by scientists from 13 federal agencies. Both reports express concern about increasing instances of extreme weather events such as wildfires, hurricanes and droughts. The research further states that the U.S. economy will lose billions of dollars by the end of the century if climate change remains unchecked.

Undeniably, the time to address climate change is now, or it will be too late.

We can already see the impacts of climate change in our own state of California. The 21st century has seen 15 of the 16 hottest years ever. Rising global temperatures cause an increase in severe weather events such as fires and droughts. California knows these issues too well. Consider the damage to agriculture: Drought as well as saltwater contamination from rising sea levels threaten our state’s agriculture industry — the largest economic sector that contributes to California’s prosperity as the fifth largest economy in the world.

Furthermore, we most likely are all acquainted with loss due to recent fires. The Mendocino Complex Fire, which is fresh in everyone’s mind, holds the record for the largest in state history — it was 60 percent larger than the previous record. And despite the fact that all Californians are impacted by these events, marginalized communities — children, communities of color, the elderly and the homeless — suffer disparate impacts from the changing climate.

In the face of these dire circumstances, the Green New Deal and other well-informed policies are a source of hope. Climate change is spurring green innovation and legislation. The Green New Deal could be a landmark commitment to creating a better future. If the deal were to be successfully passed, we would see job creation and economic benefits in promoting a 100 percent renewable-energy-based economy, completely phasing out carbon energy.

We will inherit a planet that is crumbling, has unsustainable infrastructure and is reliant on fossil fuels, yet we have driven and will continue to drive the climate conversation from a political standstill toward concrete change and environmental betterment. Never underestimate Generation Z. As a group of youth with a passion for the environment, we are the leaders, and we will save the planet.

Katie Jang is a student at UC Berkeley studying environmental science, policy and management.