James Bowen is a junior journalism major.
After skipping school to strike outside the Swedish parliament in November of last year, Greta Thunberg quickly became the leading face of climate action. The 16-year-old’s emotive dissatisfaction with passive climate change reform has resonated with her 8.2 million Instagram followers, such as 18-year-old Canadian Emma Lim, who started the #NoChildrenNoFuture campaign against climate change. While the pledge already has over 5,000 signatures, there’s still a long way to go before major legislature changes are made. With a climate change skeptic in office, and older generations apathetic to the consequences of global warming, young climate change advocates find their cries for climate change reform falling on deaf ears.
It’s frustrating to hear our elders say they’ll be “dead anyways” when the effects of climate change reach their apocalypse — none more so than from the man in the white house. President Donald Trump, who has tweeted over 115 times about climate change skepticism, withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accord on Nov. 4 for the sake of the economy. In doing so, he pulled out of an agreement aimed to gauge the increase of planetary temperatures from 2°C to 1.5°C, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2030. In addition, Trump mocked Thunberg on Sep. 23 by tweeting, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” His condescending yet ironic demeanor encapsulates precisely what is wrong with the climate change deniers — apathy.
As of now, future sea levels are expected to rise 3.3 millimeters per year. According to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), N.Y.C. is projected to be underwater by 2100. If these facts don’t alarm older generations about the threats posed by climate change, especially an entity as powerful as the president of the U.S., then nothing will. Regardless of whether climate change is brought up by a child, or a scientist, Trump doesn’t seem to be changing his mind anytime soon.
When addressing leaders of the United Nations on Jan. 25, Thunberg told the world, “Adults keep saying ‘we owe it to young people to give them hope’. But I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” This panic, otherwise known as ‘climate anxiety,’ is a byproduct of the United States’ lack of urgency towards saving the planet. This apathy towards global warming sparked outrage in Thunberg, who on Sep. 23 angrily told the UN, “How dare you?”
This outrage was met by Trump, who on Oct. 23 told the UN, “Just a few weeks ago we had millions of people around the world hit the streets at a global climate strike. We had students walking out of schools. This is really a betrayal of the next generation.” Instead of addressing the situation at face value, Trump decided to turn against young people.
As young people, our concerns are constantly undermined by the misconception that we lack authority and experience. Trump views Thunberg not as an advocate for climate change, but merely a child who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. But when experts in the field of climatology present facts, Trump is equally unmoved. If Trump won’t listen, then climate change reversal will stagnate, leaving the planet to self-combust.
But regardless of what Trump believes, Thunberg’s claims resonate with the research of scientists such as John E. Mak, an atmospheric chemist of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University (SOMAS).
According to Mak, “Climate change is certainly justifiable to worry about. It’s not a problem that will seemingly go away.” If scientists agree with younger generations, then they are bestowing their approval upon our worries — which is that our planet is being ruined by a generation that won’t live to see the consequences of their actions.
According to the UN, 60% of the world’s population will inhabit major cities by 2030. Climate change poses a threat to urbanization according to Mak. “Long Island and N.Y.C. are coastal, so we would be more prone to sea-level rise than inland,” he said. “Individual cities can help ameliorate the impacts of climate change by dynamic and complicated assessment of the situation. The bottom line is, the path we are on, we are likely to see continuing changes in our environment and living situation that we’ll have to deal with.”
These concerns have been a long time coming, according to Dr. Temis G. Taylor, a researcher at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. “People have talked about their concern for future generations since the Brundtland Report on sustainable development in 1987,” Taylor wrote via email. “We know that the generations that will face the consequences of climate change are here, now.” Taylor cites the book, Our Common Future, to describe how older and younger generations need to work together to solve problems that will affect them both. At the Alda Center, Taylor aims to “reduce polarization and improve trust among scientists, the public, and policymakers.” This, in turn, will help connect younger generations with older audiences who might be “dismissive of climate science,” she added.
While Trump as a 73-year-old, won’t live much longer to see the shortcomings of his negligence to combat climate change, young people aren’t going to wait around and do nothing.
If young climate change advocates stand any chance of changing legislature in the U.S., then they have to vote wisely in the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential elections. If significant progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions is made, then we’ll know we made the right decision. If not, then our planet will let us know.