The Youth Voice in the Climate Fight

March 7, 2013 by Elizabeth Sawin

Justin McCallum / The Tufts Daily Justin McCallum / The Tufts Daily

“As youth, we don’t have a voice in this fight. In the sense that, like, there’s no way that I can climb the government ladder and end up in a position of enough political power to save myself now. I’m never going to get that chance. And there are kids who are being born today, or born 10 years ago, they’re not really going to get that chance either, if we don’t start winning in the next couple of years.”

Those are the words of Alli Welton, a 20 year-old college student quoted in an excellent article in Grist by Wen Stephenson (The children: Why a generation is putting itself on the line for the climate). Stephenson’s article, and especially the strong clear words of the youth he interviews, can help us all see through the eyes of today’s youth climate leaders, who grasp the narrowing window of opportunity for strong and effective action on climate change and are mobilizing for fossil fuel divestment, against mountain top removal, and to block the Keystone XL pipeline in growing numbers.

At Climate Interactive, we are as likely to tell a story with numbers and graphs as we are with words. Our new CO2 Timeline Tool corroborates the point made in different ways by each of the young people interviewed by Stephenson; decisions about climate and energy that are being made today will reverberate, for better or worse, through lives of today’s children and youth. The long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere guarantees that today’s fossil fuel pollution will warm the Earth for decades to come. And policy that keeps fossil fuels in the ground today, keeps more options open for young people’s futures.

A tenant of systems thinking is that responsibility for important decisions should be given to those who will feel the impacts of the decision. For that reason alone all of us should listen, really listen, to what young people are asking, and, increasingly, demanding. In that sense the CO2 Timeline Tool tells an ethical story, and a story that should make all of us, young and old alike, stop and think about who should have the strongest voice in the climate fight.