It’s a rainy morning, affording the luxury of a guilt-free deep dive into the pages of the Sunday New York Times, something I eschew in favor of the word puzzles when I have limited time —“Spelling Bee” has become a particular obsession since Nate and Annie introduced me to it two years ago. This morning, an article caught my eye: Teenagers Fight Climate Change, From the Front. The piece profiles six 16 year-olds who collaborated in founding the not-for-profit climate change and environmental justice organization “Zero Hour.” They are like any teens you might know: passionate, impatient, persistent. This weekend, they organized a protest on the National Mall; on Thursday, they met with forty federal lawmakers to discuss their platform. Their argument is essentially this: We adults have failed to protect them, so they are taking matters into their own hands.
It’s inspiring, and it’s heart-breaking.
Like the youth of Parkland, Florida, these children are stepping into the void of civic-minded leadership in our country created by an adult narrative that insists in promoting individual wants and needs over the civic or collective good. Even though I sometimes fret that growing up in the social media era may reduce kids’ relational skills by filtering their interactions through the performative lens of insta-snap-book, it’s clear that the young people of today know how to leverage their digital skills in order to create community and organize for change. Sure, they can be naive, they will make mistakes, misspeak, suffer blind spots. Yet, the idealism of youth is not misspent in these efforts: adults have a lot to learn from our kids’ passionate advocacy, from their clear-eyed perspective that we “grown-ups” are fiddling while the planet is burning.
It’s an issue I have with the entire posture of today’s far-right agitators, and in particular their new demagogue, DJT, whose views exalt constructs and successes of the past, seemingly indifferent to long-term consequences: driving up the national debt, rejecting common-sense climate-friendly policies or broadly-supported gun control measures like universal background checks, gutting access to health care–the list goes on and on and on. I’m nostalgic for past norms, too, times when manners mattered, when we respected expertise and trusted authority, when TV news was more than a constant partisan shouting match, and you could listen to radio hits without being bombarded by f-bombs. But you gotta change with the times or be lost in the wake of history. I’m grateful to these young people, awed by their energy and inspired by their determination, when so many adults like me feel enervated, bemused, impotent.
I’m a fifty-eight year old white woman. According to the actuarial table published by Social Security in 2015, my life expectancy predicts I have another 26.17 years on this earth. (This data needs updating, btw. It was published annually through 2015, so someone’s asleep at the switch.) The kids are right: it’s their resources we plunder, their mortgage we are defaulting on.
They are doing us a favor not letting us forget: Their future is our legacy.
Here are some links in case you’re interested in learning more:
- Zero Hour
- To donate to Zero Hour
- Rock the Vote (Youth voter registration)
- National Association of Students Against Gun Violence: