Climate change news

Climate Change: A Toxic Gift for the Next Generation

Since 1981, Earth has been heating up at double the previously recorded speed — and the people responsible for the burning are leaving its consequences to the innocent next generations. Young people are crying out for change.
Teenage girl holding a megaphone while marching for climate justice with a group of demonstrators. Multicultural youth activists protesting against global warming and climate change.

Teenage girl holding a megaphone while marching for climate justice with a group of demonstrators. Multicultural youth activists protesting against global warming and climate change. © Jacob Lund /

December 07, 2023 10:20 EDT

Since 1981, Earth has been heating up at double the previously recorded speed. People spent the last century luxuriating in the gains of the Second Industrial Revolution. They drove gasoline-powered automobiles and bought cheap goods mass-produced in coal-burning factories. All this activity released greenhouse gases, which filled the atmosphere. These gases raised heat to unprecedented levels. The ten warmest years ever recorded have all been since 2010.

Older generations have already experienced the impact of climate change. In 2021, devastating flooding occurred in Australia, Europe, Asia and the US Northeast. California burned and crippling icy temperatures paralyzed Texas. As the climate grows hotter, these events and their risks will only escalate.

Previous generations contentedly burned more and more fossil fuels, and now future generations will experience hotter and longer heat waves, intensifying droughts and increasingly devastating flooding. While they enjoyed luxury, they’ve left their posterity with the burden.

Youth activism in the face of inaction

The younger generation cares a lot more about climate change than the older one. This is clear when you consider how younger people organize their family life. An increasing number of young adults have qualms about bringing children into a world experiencing intensifying disasters due to global warming. In 2018, the United States Census Bureau reported that 83.5% of adults aged 55 and older have children. On the other hand, a 2020 Morning Consult poll, with a majority of younger Gen-Z and millennial voters, found that a quarter of childless adults cite climate change as a reason they did not have children.

Unlike thoughtless older generations, younger people do not have a choice in caring about climate change. It is their reality and their future.

Young people, realizing the climate burden left to them, have fought for change and organized mass youth climate strikes. In September 2019, more than 4 million young people in thousands of cities worldwide gathered to protest. 

However, adults and politicians have criticized the youth climate movement, often claiming youths are overreacting and would be better off going to school. The adults who are causing climate change will be dead when its consequences peak. The children they are deriding as dramatic are the very same children whose lives their actions will jeopardize. Activists from the younger generation are being shut out and mocked by an older generation living in denial.

For instance, Greta Thunberg, a prominent climate activist, passionately spoke at the United Nations Climate Summit in 2019 at age 16. She denounced global leaders for their inaction and greed in the face of extreme suffering due to climate change. Numerous policymakers, including US President Donald Trump, mocked Thunberg. Trump tweeted to say she had an “anger management problem” and sarcastically described her as “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.”

Trump demeaned Thunberg because her criticism personally attacked his presidential ability and high self-image. Thunberg and other young climate activists threaten the worldview and greedy interests of politicians who refuse to acknowledge the severity of the climate crisis. As Greta Thunberg puts it, “you [politicians] are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”

Climate anxiety and what young people can do

In the face of stubborn and selfish policymakers, young people can feel overwhelmed by hopelessness. In a study published in 2022, the majority of youth and young adults expressed extreme worry about climate change. They agree that their worry has negatively affected their daily life. In order to combat this hopeless worry, young people must do something to give themselves agency and a localized sense of control.

Advocacy is an accessible way for young people to get involved in and take action on the climate struggle. It can mean simple things, such as signing petitions, participating in marches or educating friends and family.

Little actions, such as turning off unnecessary lights and water flow, are also easy ways to take action and tackle the crisis.

The most effective way to get rid of feelings of helplessness is to take the bull by the horns and do something. The older generation of policymakers has taken agency away from young people, and they must take it back.

With all the odds pushing against them, young people must continue to press the older generation for change. They must shout, not whisper — demand, not ask — for immediate action.
[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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