The 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has made international headlines for her searing denunciations of inaction on climate change.
She’s not alone, either. There is an entire emerging generation of young people — from their pre-teens to their 20s — who are speaking out about the threats posed by a warming planet.
And while these activists might seem overly dramatic or overly idealistic or threatening to our current way of life, they are worthy of attention and our respect. Because the planet that we are leaving them will undeniably be different than the planet we received from our parents and their ancestors. That’s a tragedy, and one we may be unable to prevent.
Study after study confirms that climate change is happening, and in some cases, its effects are larger and more severe than even scientists predicted.
Indeed, according to the Washington Post, extreme changes already come to many locations in the United States. A project last month from the Post, “2°C: Beyond the Limit,” mapped regions throughout the country that are already noticeably, tangibly warmer than they were a generation ago. The change is right here, right now, under our noses.
It’s worth listening to the children.
So what do we do? Politicians and activists have proposed an array of options, ranging from total denial all the way to civilization-transforming efforts. As we all move ahead, inspired by the passion of activists like Thunberg, it’s worth looking carefully at the options in front of us.
Will the proposed changes make a difference? Are we thinking about mitigating the change that has already happened — and that will already happen, no matter the changes in emissions? Is there scientific consensus for one course over another?
Ultimately, it is too much to ask that our entire society reform itself. We don’t have time. But it is not too much to ask that our society redirect energy and goals from simply pursuing profit and polluting the planet. If the stakes are made clear enough, and the options easy enough to understand, we should be able to come together as a people to make the right decisions.
If we don’t, much of what we take for granted could be at risk. And that threat is why we need climate activists like Greta Thunberg.
We must be reminded that this planet is not ours — but is instead our children’s — and their children’s beside.