Changing the face of climate politics: counting on the next generation

By Ashlyn Whiteside

As climate change increases at unprecedented rates, it is no mystery that uncertainty increases regarding our future. However, we know one thing for sure: the world is in the hands of the youth. As the youth population dominates the world with the largest number of young people, aged 10-24, in history, this generation is quickly building awareness for environmentalism and turning to activism. Why? We are the generation whose future will likely be most affected by the cost of climate change.

The Youth Climate Movement started in 1992 with youth attendance at a major United Nations conference known as the Rio Earth Summit. In 2005, the first Conference of Youth happened in Montreal and soon after, nearly all organizations within the movement began sending members to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to represent youth populations across the globe.

The youth make great activists, leaders and fighters because of their hope, fearlessness and budding creativity, says World Youth Alliance. We see youth activism at the front of just about every movement, from the little girl chanting “No justice, No peace” after police brutality toward George Floyd to a sustainable
youth organization known as Sunrise coining the climate proposal known as “The Green New Deal” that has been in the mouth of nearly every politician in the country. Ali Zaidi, the current Deputy National Climate Advisor of President Joe Biden’s Office said to Andrew Marantz for The New Yorker that throughout
American history, “Whenever we have achieved a phase change, it’s been young people making it happen.”

One of the most important components of the youth climate movement and its rise is social media.

“I’ve learned the most from the social posts I see every day on Instagram,” said senior musical theater major Chase McFadden.

Social media gives people all across the globe a chance to connect with others, circulate news posts, share petitions, educate themselves, raise money and join movements and strikes. Even TikTok has turned into a medium for sustainability education and outreach.

School counseling graduate student Jenn Zhong said, “Even though I only follow a handful of sustainable accounts, I see shared posts on my friends’ stories and my explore page constantly. They are always so educational and empowering; it’s impossible to not repost it on my story to educate and empower someone

Some important youth activists of our time that more people should be aware of are 19-year-old Isra Hirsi, who is the co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, 19-year-old Greta Thunberg, who went on strike from going to school until the Swedish government reduced their carbon emissions, 14-year-old Mari
Copeny, who advocates for clean water in Flint Michigan, including a $100 million relief package she got approved for the city, 21-year-old Hannah Herbst, who was recognized for developing an ocean energy probe that can utilize and harness the energy of the ocean currents for energy in developing countries and so many more.

These young activists have caught the attention of politicians across the globe as they obliterate their adult opposition with their followers subscribers, sharers and viewers. Join us to learn more about the Youth Climate Movement through the wise words of Thunberg in the documentary, “I am Greta.”

The film screening will be April 18-19 at 7 p.m. in Rue Auditorium, Sweigart Room 115, with a brief discussion following the film. You don’t want to miss this one because Greta once said, “change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

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