This blog is being released on my 18th birthday, which means it is a perfect time to reflect on the idea of being a youth activist; and the way it reflects on our society that young people are having to play such an active role in our climate discourse.
When I first started out being a climate activist, my overwhelming feeling was one of excitement at the fact I could make a difference in what was one of the biggest issues of all time. I felt a duty as someone with a lot of privilege to get my voice heard, to make a difference because many others didn’t have the privilege of doing so. As a 15 year old, used to voicing my opinion in theory, in essays, MUNs and debates, the giddying excitement of feeling as though I was doing something of genuine excitement made the experience valuable and enriching; a pleasure, rather than an obligation.
But the more I learnt of the climate crisis, the more I realised activism was an obligation, rather than just something for fun. What had started out as a hobby was a pressing fight for our future. Dread and fear became a driver of my activism, not merely hope.
Of course, as someone living where I do, I should be safe from most of the worst impacts of the climate crisis, no matter how bad it is. Compared to the millions suffering from the impacts of the climate crisis already, the warmer and more pleasant summers that I have experienced haven’t exactly been the end of the world. Nevertheless, the fear of a worsening climate is still there. I have been used to viewing the future as a horizon of infinite possibility; life getting better for millions of the worst off, less hunger, less war, less poverty, less disease. More hope, more wealth, more prosperity for everyone, especially the worst off. Climate change threatens all of that. Climate change threatens a hopeful future. Hence the fear.
Young people, children even, should not feel obligated to fight for the future. This shouldn’t be our fight; this should be the older generations fight. We should be provided a healthy and safe world by our parents, which we then hope to improve to pass onto our children. That is the generational social contract; we pay it forwards. Our parents fight for our future, and we fight for our children’s future. We should not have to fight for our own. Plan for it, sure. Educate ourselves. Prepare ourselves to change the world. But fight for a safe world for us to live in, laugh in, love in, thrive in; that shouldn’t be our job. We’ve been let down.
I am not saying that youth activism is a bad thing; it is amazing for us young people to be involved in the decision making that impacts our lives. Being a youth activist is one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life, and I have learnt so much. But I shouldn’t feel I have to be a youth activist. The world shouldn’t be in our hands...yet. It is a sorrowful indictment of the world today that we feel we need to get our voices heard in the present in order for us to have a chance at a better future.
We deserve better than being burdened with the responsibility of fighting climate cange now, and in the future. So the first step is older generations taking responsibility, and combatting this crisis head on. Frankly, this should have happened before I learnt to read, but it didn’t. So it needs to happen now. Don’t just put young people on a pedestal, and complement us. Hear us, and step up to your responsibility. The second step is reversing the damage done, paving the road for us to reclaim our future. That is what climate restoration is for. Paving that better world. The older generations will not be able to restore the climate. But you will be able to give our generations the tools to do it. You have left us with an unsafe climate. First, stop making things worse. Then, give us the tools to make it better.
I am Jewish, and in one of our texts, called the Midrash, there is a story of an old man who planted a fig tree. Some younger men asked him why he planted it; after all, he wouldn’t ever be there to enjoy its fruit or shade. He replied, “I enjoyed the fruit and shade of trees planted for me. So I will plant for those who will come after me.” So it is with climate restoration. The older generations have failed to give us a safe climate, but they still have a chance to give us our due inheritance. First, stop making the problem worse, then, give us the tools to make it better. Plant us that tree, both literally, and figuratively.
When we talk about climate justice, intergenerational justice is too often ignored. We are still young, still have our whole lives ahead of us. The question we all have to ask ourselves: in what kind of world do we want to live those lives?