Robert Friedman, Youth Engagement Coordinator, New York City
A recently released paper by former chief NASA climatologist James Hansen and 17 other international climate scientists is getting some pickup in youth movement circles. The paper, published by peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE, goes well beyond what one would traditionally expect from a scientific paper, mainly because of its intergenerational framing of climate change:
“The possibility of such intergenerational injustice is not remote – it is at our doorstep now. We have a planetary climate crisis that requires urgent change to our energy and carbon pathway to avoid dangerous consequences for young people and other life on earth.”
Hansen et al. go on to state that despite the increasing body of evidence stating that anthropogenic climate change is occurring, governments around the world continue to burn fossil fuels. Further fossil fuel extraction has and will impact us all, but it will inflict the greatest damage on my generation and those that follow. Hansen’s paper is compelling because it discusses an intergenerational justice angle, and the dire need for action, as being directly linked to climate science. While perhaps obvious, rarely is this connection made so explicitly in academic writing.
Among Hansen et al.’s main findings is that a previously understood limit of 2°C rise in global average temperature is a “dangerous target” that would not avoid the worst impacts of climate change. According to the paper, negative feedback loops connected to sea level rise and arctic ice melt would in fact become apparent with a 1°C degree rise in current temperatures. These environmental shifts are real, observable and actionable. And they must be addressed as such.
Our friends at iMatter recently wrote of their thoughts on the paper:
“Maybe it’s only my young and optimistic age of 15 that makes me believe this, but I have a strong belief that in this time of crisis, the nations of the world can truly cooperate in working to find real solutions and new technology. I am not blind. I see the divided political parties, the extreme difference in ideologies, and the tense relationships that make a clean and global future seem unattainable. However, we cannot continue to push aside the matter of climate change as something to be dealt with in better circumstances. The world will go through its hardships and challenges, but unless climate change is dealt with right now through cooperative measures from different countries and sectors, the future, or lack thereof, is a dark and alarming place.” – iMatter Youth Council leader Rebecca Chung, age 15, Buena Park, CA
“Global leaders are disregarding the facts and ignoring the scientists. To put it simply, they are approaching this problem with ignorance because it’s not “economical” or “important.” As put by James Hansen, “we are all in the same boat together and we will all sink together or sail together.” We have reached a point in our time on earth when we must all step down from our pedestals and realize that we are all of the same species. We breathe the same air, we walk on the same land and we all call this great big Earth our home. Despite coming from different backgrounds and understanding different mindsets, there are things that connect every single human being on this earth and those are the desire to love, to be happy, to live comfortably and so on. But we cannot achieve such things when our home is hurting. We have reached a point in our time on earth when we must forget about the divide that we have created against this human family that we are all part of and recognize that it’s all or nothing now.” Jenna Farineau, age 17, Louisville, KY
Despite being outspoken on this issue, young people continue to serve as largely a talking point in the climate change dialogue. Many a politician cites the need to act on climate for the sake of future generations. It is time for these politicians to actually engage young people directly in creating solutions to this growing crisis. The passion around this issue is clearly there. For us, this issue could not be more personal – we are in fact fighting for our very existence. It is time that we are engaged as such.
Thousands of young people rallying for climate justice and clean energy solutions at Power Shift in October. Credit:Robert Van Waarden
Over the next few months, we will be working with allies across the movement to facilitate further engagement around the President’s Climate Action Plan. Stay tuned and see you out there.
To follow updates from our work with young people, follow @NRDCYouth.