* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.For the last 20 to 30 years the environmental movement has been waiting for the public to care about the climate
The generation with the most to lose from continued inaction on climate change is stepping forward with bold demands for the world to act with urgency. And this is exactly what we’ve all been waiting for
Today hundreds of thousands of young people will take to the streets worldwide to protest the continued inaction of adults to stop climate change. They are calling for politicians and others in positions of power to implement the solutions they know are available to combat climate change.
For the last 20 to 30 years the environmental movement has been waiting for the public to care about the climate. Somehow, we haven’t really been able to capture the collective imagination until recently. It was all too distant, too far away, too hard to deal with.
Meanwhile, those seeking to slow warming have been using a top down framework. It is in the power of governments and large businesses to implement the solutions to climate change at a bigger scale, and many of them have been leading the charge.
It can be frustrating to think of individual responsibility compared with the challenge of global warming. There are actions that we can take to reduce our carbon footprints – like switching our household lightbulbs to LEDs, saving up to 70 percent energy.
But when a whole city switches to LEDs – that’s when you see real impact. Chicago has recently replaced 270,000 old fashioned street lights, which will save taxpayers $100 million over 10 years and avoid over 11,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.
That’s the power of climate action at scale, introduced at city, state, or regional level.
Anyone who says that individual action makes no difference should look to teenager Greta Thunberg. Starting out as one person sitting outside the Swedish parliament holding a ‘Skolstrejk för Klimatet’ banner, just 30 weeks later she was joined by 1.4 million other school children in 2,233 cities and towns in 128 countries around the world.
Greta Thunberg, along with the hundreds of thousands of teenagers like her taking to the streets to protest, is bringing exactly the energy and urgency that is needed to transform the conversation. They are impatient with the current pace of change, which is why the proposals of the Green New Deal are so appealing. They recognise that time is running out, and that we need a complete overhaul in the way we are using and consuming.
The transformation is already happening. These young people have captured headlines and attention worldwide. They’ve skipped school in favour of the streets, raising their placards high and their voices loud. They’ve come out in their numbers to be counted, photographed, and shared on social media. They’re raising the issue of climate change higher on the political agenda.
These young people might not have the voting or purchasing power to directly affect the governments and businesses they are calling upon for action. But they have parents in boardrooms and in political office. The influencing power they have on their parents should not be underestimated. Nor should the power of the images and video footage of them marching to save their futures, and the future of the planet.
What we need to do now is to amplify the voices of these passionate young people. For so long our messages have just not resonated with them – but now is the time for us to listen and learn.
Limiting warming is not a choice now between top down versus grassroots engagement – the two approaches need to work together to achieve the biggest impact at the fastest possible speed.
In September this year we have the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit where the world’s national leaders will come together to raise their ambition and momentum. This will take place during Climate Week NYC, the world’s biggest climate week hosted by The Climate Group, bringing business and political leaders together to showcase inspiring climate action. If the growing momentum and size of the school strikes for climate are anything to go by, the voices of young people will be impossible for them to ignore.