A New Generation of Activists
At the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg delivered a momentous speech that captured the world’s attention. She expressed her outrage at the fact that government leaders were not prioritizing the current climate crisis. In doing so, Thunberg ignited a global youth movement advocating for environmental reform and climate justice. The media highlighted her activism, and as a result, the issue of climate change was propelled into the spotlight. Inspired by Thunberg’s passion and bravery, students began to follow in her footsteps by organizing local strikes and marches. Elected officials would be forced to address climate change and implement substantial legislation. The “bubble of denial” was broken.
The movement was able to gain even more momentum through social media. The new mode of communication enabled activists like Greta Thunberg to raise awareness among the youth. She documented her school strikes on Instagram and Twitter, where they were shared by other activists and went viral. Youth-led organizations like the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and Zero Hour were able to obtain large followings on social media as well. The nature of apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter made it relatively easy to spread information about large-scale events, which increased attendance. As a result, millions of people gathered to demand action from Washington D.C. to Madrid in September of 2019. Due to social media, activists are also able to post about changes that they have made in their daily lives to reduce individual carbon footprints, such as going vegan or boycotting cruises. Younger generations no longer have to rely solely on newspapers or news networks to educate people and spread information on pressing issues like climate change.
High-profile youth climate activists have expanded past the local level. They are speaking at international conferences and lobbying government officials to pass concrete policies like the Green New Deal. The United Nations Children's Fund hosted a press conference and invited 16 teenagers from around the world, including Thunberg, to speak. The group launched an official complaint against five countries that are not set to meet their emission reduction targets. This movement has even inspired philanthropists, who established the Climate Emergency Fund in 2019. The fund has already received hundreds of thousands of dollars, and this number is only expected to grow.
From large symbolic demonstrations to local community dialogues, this new generation of activists has proven that it is possible to bring about real change no matter how old you are. Influential leaders like UN Secretary General António Guterres have commended young activists for calling out politicians on their continued inaction. Unfortunately, some leaders still refuse to acknowledge the climate crisis, and they bash activists like Thunberg. In the U.S., previous environmental reforms have been rolled back under the current administration. However, the growing coalition of youth climate activists will only use this frustration as reason to push even harder for their goals. This issue is deeply personal and important to younger generations, as they are the ones who will be hit the hardest and the longest by climate change. So the resilience and persistence of the youth must provide necessary hope for the future of humanity.