Editorial: Youth activism as a last resort

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On Sept. 23, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg delivered a speech to the UN in New York, demanding immediate action regarding the current climate crisis. 

Thunberg, without even cracking a joke or smile, let the weight of her words sink into the room.

And rightfully so.

She is just one of the millions of young people who have stressed the seriousness of climate change. 

“This is all wrong,” Thunberg said. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you have come to us young people for hope. How dare you?” 

Thunberg has received the utmost praise and, to many, has become the symbol of hope as the world faces the terrifying reality of climate change. 

“She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright wonderful future. So nice to see,” Trump said in response to her speech on Monday. 

But Thunberg is correct— this is all wrong. 

The 16-year-old, who should be in school, has taken a sabbatical for a year to address the existential threat some adults in power have yet to fully acknowledge.

Thunberg traveled from Sweden to New York City on a zero-emissions boat -a two-week journey- just to speak for four minutes in front of some of the most influential political leaders in the world. 

Frustratingly, her two-week-long journey and four-minute speech received a lukewarm response from our president. Trump is one of many leaders who fail to fully comprehend not only the harsh reality of climate change, but also the tragic truth that some teenagers, like Thunberg, have sacrificed their youth to compensate for politicians’ inability to act. 

And while Thunberg is an unmatched leader, she said it best herself, “I only speak when I see it as necessary, and now is one of those moments.”

Although political leaders did not grow up with the same urgency about climate change, youth activism has played a critical role in societal progress since the 1960s. 

From the Greensboro sit-ins to the Parkland students’ inception of the March for Our Lives, youth activism has driven historic change. 

But if all politicians have lived through major student protests, what happens to that sense of urgency once they enter office? 

Thunberg is not, as Trump responds, a “very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” Instead, she is a betrayed, young girl, carrying the weight that adult leaders fail to lift so she can have her desired future. 

The belittlement of youth activism only makes it more necessary. Hope for the future is not “nice to see.” A child’s access to a future is a fundamental right. 

While student activists have been, and will continue to be, a driving force for change, leaders like Thunberg speak up because our leaders have failed to do so. She is right. This is all wrong. 

What would be “nice to see” is politicians at least matching the efforts that youth activists have made, sacrificing their childhood in order to fight for the right to their future. 

It’s time for politicians to lift the burden and lead.  

It would be “nice to see” children and teenagers dreaming of and preparing for their futures instead of fighting for the chance to have one.

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4 Comments

  1. Amy Charles ‘89 on

    One, of course you’re correct.

    Two, you’re writers. You have got to stop leaning on the word “frustrating”, because it minimizes intensely serious things. “Frustrating” is when you expect something that you want, and it’s not happening. It’s when you just miss the bus because it went by a little early. It’s when you’re trying to find your way into a subway station or a parking ramp and you keep going around in circles missing the entrance. It’s when your mom isn’t listening to what you’re really saying. That’s frustrating. Existential threats are not “frustrating”, and neither are things that are entirely expected.

    There was zero reason to expect that Trump might take Greta seriously as anything but a thing that pulled attention away from himself. You’re not seriously expecting that he’d do different. So you’re not frustrated. You might be irritated or disgusted that he was, once again, his entirely predictible self. Maybe you’re infuriated or outraged or even seething that this is what we’ve got taking up the space of a president and failing to react in some appropriate way, although your target there may really be the people who put him in that spot and maintain him there. Or possibly you’re despairing. That strikes me as not unreasonable. I would be, if I were 19 and looking ahead to a world turned upside down by climate change and grownups doing nothing about it but making it worse.

    Use the language. It’s the only thing you’ve got. Don’t be flabby about it.

    Incidentally, you guys should know who your friends and enemies are when it comes to climate change. You keep on celebrating Hotel B; the guy running it, who keeps showing up in these comments, is very much against you. Just more snowflakery, all this climate guff, as far as he’s concerned. You’re under no obligation to keep giving him free advertising and PR. Nor is LU obliged to give him business with events and reserving blocks of rooms. I’d find out who takes you seriously when it comes to climate, assuming you mean what you say up there, and support them.

  2. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    Earth Day https://www.earthday.org/about/the-history-of-earth-day/?gclid=Cj0KCQjww7HsBRDkARIsAARsIT7u9wmgcTjIhbSJAyGnZUrPo0ZwZUdWEoETsmmEB74dTu7dQCC5GNUaAoP1EALw_wcB has been around for almost 50 years so we can blame the teenagers and young adults of the time for or current situation or praise them for identifying the problem. Actually some progress has been made https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BaHXd0fOL0.

    “But if all politicians have lived through major student protests, what happens to that sense of urgency once they enter office?” Some make compromises which pleases no one but leads to progress.

    “Thunberg is not, as Trump responds, a “very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” Instead, she is a betrayed, young girl, carrying the weight that adult leaders fail to lift so she can have her desired future.” Despite the fact that President Trump probably put the tiniest bit of thought into his statement, he is probably correct, check back in 20 years. People such as Thunberg have characteristics that will bring them success. Those “carrying the weight that adult leaders fail to lift” will probably be some South Bethlehem residents and third world poor or other such people.

    The environment doesn’t need activists , it needs people of intelligence and drive to develop a strategy that will be able to effect needed change. ISIS was able to effectively mobilize many to achieve their goals without protest marches. If you can motivate to kill you ought to be able to motivate to survive “the terrifying reality of climate change”.

  3. If this is such a crisis, why is it being lead by activists instead of actual scientists??

    Don’t be so naive. There’s a reason the left keeps peddling this doomsday scenario and it has nothing to do with climate or the environment.

    • “Don’t be so naive,” go look a little closer. Scientists are a major, leading group within advocates against climate change. In fact, they were our first activists for climate action.

      Not only that, but climate change is no longer a bipartisan issue. It’s no longer limited to the left. All sides of the political spectrum are growing increasingly aware of our changing climate.

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