Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week. Thunberg has a strong reputation as a climate activist having staged weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament resulting in a growing movement of youth climate activists holding their own protests in more than 100 cities worldwide. Having a young person speak about climate issues is appropriate considering the higher-level interest shown by young people over adults on climate-related concerns. After all, it is their future that is being discussed.
Results of a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week found that young people include climate change among the issues they think are most important facing the country. Eighty-six percent of youth think that human activity is causing climate change. Of considerable concern is the finding that 57 percent of the youth polled said that climate change makes them feel afraid. It is their future, and they feel afraid of the future we adults are leaving them. The good news is that 54 percent feel motivated to do something about it.
But young people fortunately are not alone in being fearful of climate change and motivated to do something about it. The 2019 Virginia Climate Crisis Forum held at the First Baptist Church in Vienna attracted nearly 300 activists to focus on climate justice. The forum was moderated by William Barber, III, son of the famous Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Karenna Gore, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore. Reflecting the broad interest in the issue, panelists included representatives of the Green New Deal of Virginia, People Demanding Action, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions and others. Emphasis of the discussion was on working together to repair a damaged climate while ensuring that everyone most impacted — including low-income people, people of color, the vulnerable, and those on the front lines—are part of every solution and not disproportionally impacted.
Coming out of the Virginia Clean Energy Summit also held last week was an announcement by Governor Ralph Northam that the goal in Virginia is that by 2030, 30 percent of Virginia’s electric system will be powered by renewable energy resources and by 2050, 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity will be produced from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear.
In his Executive Order establishing the goals, the Governor expressed the concerns being heard from the young people and in the various meetings on the issue: “Climate change is an urgent and pressing challenge for Virginia. As recent storms, heat waves, and flooding events have reminded us, climate disruption poses potentially devastating risk to Virginia.” Reflecting the concern about economic justice, the Governor’s Executive Order stated that “These clean energy resources shall be deployed to maximize the economic and environmental benefit to under-served communities while mitigating any impact to those communities.”
Young people remind us that there are ample reasons to be afraid of an unknown future with climate change. The best response to that fear is to intensify the discussions such as have been going on while taking positive steps like that by the Governor to reverse impact on climate change.