“We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?” -Greta Thunberg
An estimated 7 million people worldwide flooded the streets in the largest uprising for the climate in the history of humanity. Starting with the youth climate strike on Sept. 20, days prior to the United Nations Climate Summit, young people led the world in a crucial discussion on the catastrophic consequences of policy inaction. With the goal of motivating world leaders, young people have drawn universal attention to global warming in ways that decades of scientific progress could not.
I had the honor not only to march alongside Greta Thunberg and other fascinating young adults from all over the world but also to attend high-level meetings in preparation for the General Assembly week. Witnessing the rallies and demonstrations — from Canberra, Australia, to Kabul, Afghanistan; and Cape Town, South Africa, to McMurdo Station in the Antarctic — I couldn’t help but think about the impact that my generation is having on climate rhetoric. Whether motivated by fear or hope, young people were able to transform the climate conversation in its entirety. Unsatisfied by the profound injustice of an existential threat to our generation, we have fueled a wave of activism that is hard to ignore.
Through multiple discussions with demonstrators in New York, I have found yet another common trait: young people have not had to suddenly adapt their worldview to issues of climate change. Instead, it serves as a somber backdrop to our dreams throughout our existence.
“This is an emergency. Our house is on fire,” Greta Thunberg said, addressing the crowd of about 300,000 people on Sept. 20, proclaiming the notion told by hundreds of scientists previously warning the world.
The empty promises of our world leaders and inaction of those we empowered have accumulated anger that is hard to contain. The fear, anger and hope will only be satisfied once the demands are heard: an immediate end of the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, prioritization of the frontline communities, workers, and those least responsible for the climate crisis, as well as the accountability from fossil fuel executives and the global North. A just transition to renewable energy is the only outcome that will satisfy Generation Z, which refuses to become the last generation living on Earth, as its title suggests.
As a result, more than 75 leaders pledged to eliminate their countries' carbon emissions by 2050, and plenty of European countries committed to spending billions to fund renewable transition for developing nations. The world’s largest economies, however, abstained from making such promises.
“How dare you,” is the message that Thunberg and other brave young people communicate to the world.
“It is only the beginning,'' they keep chanting.
“The ticket to enter today’s United Nations Climate Action Summit is not a beautiful speech, but a concrete plan,” agreed the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
The Planet Forward series “Faces of the Climate March” aims to shed light on a handful of those young people who brought hope to all of us, and who will not stop even if, temporarily, their demands were left unmet.