Having been around for the first Earth Day, and having been an environmental advocate since then, I was dismayed by the president’s response to his administration’s Climate Assessment #4, which concluded: “Time is running out [to arrest climate change].” Our president’s response: “I don’t believe it.” Then a miracle happened. The youth of the world stood up over climate change and went on strike for Planet Earth.
On March 15, 2019 young people across the globe (2,052 events in 123 countries), in response to Sweden’s Greta Thunberg’s climate strike, walked out of their classrooms to advocate against climate change and for the Earth. A 13-year-old young man in Australia summed up this moment of hope best: “I don’t blame all adults: The truth has been kept from them. But we now know what’s happening, and the next logical step is for governments at every level to declare a state of climate emergency so that immediate action can be taken to prevent catastrophic outcomes.”
This youth movement in the United States has a de facto leader: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Congressmember Ocasio-Cortez is a young woman capable of identifying with and responding to this next generation of environmental activists. Her New Green Deal (NGD) (proposed with Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass.) should be viewed not only as a tool capable of galvanizing support for dealing with climate change but as the passing of the baton from one generation to another.
Last February, Senator Dianne Feinstein was approached/confronted by a group of young environmental activists who asked her to support the NGD. I greatly respect and admire the senator. She and I are environmentalists from the post World War II/Baby Boomer generation. Our generation has been resisting environmental assaults from corporations and their allies in Congress for roughly the past 40 years. We have been fighting for: clean air, clean water, ocean protection, and, of course, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. We see climate change as an existential threat to life as we know it on Planet Earth, and have been advocating for, and in the case of the Senator, proposing legislative changes capable of addressing that threat.
The exchange that occurred between Senator Feinstein and youth climate-change advocacy groups (Sunrise Movement and Youth vs. Apocalypse) asking her to support the NGD was exemplary of the hope we can all feel on Earth Day 2019. We witnessed the baton being passed from one generation to the next.
In this Time of Trump, Senator Feinstein was absolutely correct when she said: “The NGD could not get through the Senate [and become law]” (much less survive a presidential veto). Yet, the encounter played out in front of us was hopeful and something to celebrate on Earth Day 2019. Senator Feinstein was learning that there is indeed a next generation of environmental advocates who understand the climate change threat. The young people, in turn, were learning a lesson about politics: It matters who’s in power and what they believe.
The NGD correctly states that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change and that it is causing: sea levels to rise, increases in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and weather events threatening to human life; and that global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond industrialized levels will be catastrophic for life on Earth. The Republican response to this scientifically based Resolution was derisive and absurd. They told us we would lose cars, commercial air flight, and hamburgers.
While it’s obvious that in this Time of Trump the U.S. government, and my generation for that matter, will not be leading the way out of this existential dilemma — we are “holding the line” — it has become equally obvious that the next generation will form the grass roots necessary to elect officials who will deal with climate change and restore the U.S. to its rightful place as the world leader against it.
Mother Earth this Earth Day can exhale with the understanding that worldwide there is a new generation who will defend Her.