Climate change: It’s about us

For students of today, the issue is not about future generations

YOUNG CLIMATE ACTIVISTS from at least 98 countries are boycotting schools Friday – one of the biggest environmental protests in history and another step in reframing the climate debate in this country.

We’ve gotten used to hearing about the challenges future generations will face.

Deadly heat waves – mega-storms – rising sea levels – new pathogens – disruptions causing disasters generating further disasters. Do we need to repeat it all here?

The point is, this is not just about future generations – it’s about us. We are the graduating class of 2019, in our early 20s. With every new IPCC report and every new research publication, the timeline for extreme climate impacts gets shorter. Without swift action, trends will reach crisis levels by 2050, when we’ll be in our 50s, perhaps with families of our own. We understand now how wrong our elders were about the climate problem.

Climate change will shape our adult lives.

We already face the challenge of finding our way in an increasingly competitive professional world. Many of us are graduating with heavy financial debt. Have we done well enough, we wonder? Will we find the jobs we want? Are we ready for our next steps? Doubtless every generation of graduates has had similar questions.

But now the unpredictable environmental and social disruptions of climate change are going to be added to this.

What do we actually know about our climate future? Climate scenarios hold a lot of uncertainty. Some of it is scientific ignorance about how complex earth systems will respond to changes. But most questions are about how, and whether, we will act to substantively curb greenhouse gas emissions.

We know that the resources to do so are more available now, before the acute impacts start to hit with regularity. Later on, resources will be spread much more thinly. It’s intensely frustrating to see elderly politicians crying poor-mouth today, when we know that tomorrow will be much tougher and our options fewer.

In our discussions about impending climate change, a recurring theme has been the extreme injustice of what awaits us. The impacts will be sickeningly unjust at every scale, from local neighborhoods to global power relations. Those who have contributed the least to this crisis will be the ones suffering the most. We’d love to look forward to a world of expanding social justice and peace – but unless major changes are made immediately, it doesn’t look likely.

Another theme is national security. We find it incredible that our society, while obsessed with national security issues, continues to underestimate the biggest security threat of all – global climate change.

History, science, and common sense all make clear: Delays in action are costing us. Every delay constricts our window of opportunity for damage control. Every delay ties our hands in ways that we won’t even know until it’s too late.

We have some requests – they are actually demands — for the generation of political power brokers preceding ours, and the new Congress that just assumed power in Washington.

  • We demand that political leaders take this crisis seriously, and that substantive actions be taken now – not later.
  • We demand ramped-up public support for emerging technologies – clean energy, major efficiency improvements, infrastructure adaptation.
  • We demand that the automotive industry increase fuel efficiency standards – even if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in its cowardly report of July 2018, was afraid to mandate it.
  • We demand an “Apollo moon-shot”-style investment program in public transport networks, electric vehicle recharging stations, and bike lanes all across this country.
  • Most of all, we demand a stepped-up public conversation about climate change, to bring this crisis fully into public consciousness at last.
Meet the Author
We’re just getting started – and yes, we vote.

This piece was written collaboratively and signed by 26 students in two UMass Boston classes – “Thinking about Climate Change” and “Sustainability Science: Environment, Economy, Equity,” Teaching and administrative staff across six departments provided support.